Across California, gay couples are celebrating a federal court’s ruling that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional.

Yesterday, Chief US District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage violates equal protection clauses in the US constitution and that moral disapproval is not a valid reason to deny the right to marry.

His judgment, if upheld by the Supreme Court, is expected to have ramifications for gay marriage bans across the US.

After his ruling was announced, some gay couples rushed to their local registry offices in the hope of taking advantage of the decision immediately but were turned away by clerks unable to process their ceremonies.

Wendy Rae Hill and Carrie Tedrick, of Sacramento, told the Sacramento Bee that they headed to county clerk’s office within an hour of the ruling but were told by a clerk that no marriage certificates would be issued for at least a day or two.

Judge Walker ordered that the ban, known as Proposition 8, should be lifted immediately but agreed to wait until a hearing tomorrow to decide whether the ruling should take effect now or be put on hold while gay marriage opponents appeal.

Legal experts say that gay couples may have to wait months or years to marry, as gay marriage opponents, such as ProtectMarriage.com, have said they will appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

ProtectMarriage.com, which is the official supporter of the ban, has already accused Judge Walker of “judicial activist”, claiming that he overrode the votes of seven million California residents. Fifty-two per cent of California voters voted to ban gay marriage in the state in 2008.

The group says it will file an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and filed a brief on Wednesday asking the judge to stay his verdict until they had appealed.

There has been speculation that the decision could affect gay marriage bans in other states if it is upheld by the Supreme Court. Thirty-three states have explicit bans on gay marriage, while currently only six – Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Washington DC and Vermont – allow gay couples to wed.

In his written judgment yesterday, Judge Walker said that the state does not have a legitimate interest in forcing private moral and religious beliefs on individuals and has no “rational basis” for denying marriage to gay couples.

He added: “Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples.”

His decision was supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who chose not to defend his own state’s ruling.

Schwarzenegger said in a statement: “For the hundreds of thousands of Californians in gay and lesbian households who are managing their day-to-day lives, this decision affirms the full legal protections and safeguards I believe everyone deserves.”