The US government’s policy of promoting procreation should overrule gay rights, according to a panel of federal judges.

Judge Jerome Farris told a gay couple suing Orange County, for the right to get married, that “everything that is wrong is not discrimination.”

The two men are calling California’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional because it treats gays and lesbians differently to heterosexuals.

One of the judges, Gary Taylor, ruled against their case at the US Circuit Court of Appeals, recognising the law “has a disproportionate effect on homosexual individuals,” but said procreation is more important.

Mr Farris said: “I think marriage is a bundle of sticks and sticks include procreation.”

Richard Gilbert, the gay couple’s lawyer, said procreation is not the most important part of marriage, and one of the judges, Sidney Thomas appeared to agree.

Mr Thomas said: “I don’t understand, really, the procreation argument.”

The complainants, Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer, have vowed to take their case all the way to the Supreme Court.