PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - A U.S. anti-gay marriage group seeking to block the legalization of same-sex nuptials in Oregon asked a federal appeals court on Monday to stay a lawsuit challenging the state's gay marriage ban so it can take a stand in the case.
The move comes on the same day a U.S. district judge in left-leaning Oregon is expected to issue a ruling in the closely watched legal challenge to a voter-approved 2004 amendment to the state constitution that defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
Oregon's attorney general has refused to defend the law.
The National Organization for Marriage said it filed an emergency petition with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seeking to halt further action in the case so it could "present a legitimate defense" of the amendment.
"This case is an ugly example of inappropriate cooperation between the attorney general and the gay marriage lobby, both of whom want to redefine marriage in contravention of the overwhelming decision of the people to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman," the group's president, Brian Brown, said in a statement.
Marriage rights have been extended to gay couples in 17 states and the District of Columbia in a trend that has gained momentum since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that legally married same-sex couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits.
That decision, which struck down part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, has been cited by federal judges in subsequent opinions overturning state bans on gay matrimony.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said in February she would not defend the state's ban on gay marriage in the face of a lawsuit by four same-sex couples who argue it violates the U.S. Constitution.
Officials from several other states, including California, Nevada and Virginia, have likewise refused to defend such laws in court as gay marriage proponents make legal headway across the country.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which is representing plaintiffs in the case, asked the 9th Circuit to reject the National Organization for Marriage's petition.
"As the clock ticks, their chances of being able to hold things up gets slimmer and slimmer but, as always, anything can happen," said David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon. "The roller coaster ride continues."
(Reporting by Shelby Sebens and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb editing by Andrew Hay)