COSTA MESA — Heather Ellis can't help but get teary-eyed when talking about how it feels to wait while lawyers and judges argue over the fate of same-sex marriage rights in California.
"I don't really know how to say it," Ellis, 38, said. "It's really odd that we have to go through this."
Ellis and her partner, Rosanne Faul, 41, live in Costa Mesa. They were planning to marry on Sept. 3 in Santa Ana's Old Courthouse. But they had to postpone their plans indefinitely when, on Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals put a stay on same-sex marriages until at least December.
The case is expected to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
"It's tough to swallow," Ellis said. "We were getting excited like any other couple would. Even though we knew what was possible, it didn't take away the sting."
Ellis and Faul met more than five years ago at a Newport Beach tennis club. Faul had moved to Orange County in 2004 from Merced, where she was a deputy public defender.
Ellis took six months to pluck up the courage to finally talk to Faul. She asked her out to a movie on a rainy day when they couldn't play tennis.
"I always joke we had a week and a half courtship and we've been together ever since," Ellis said.
The couple have two collies and had planned on leaving for a week's vacation in Mammoth the day after their wedding at the Old Courthouse. They'll still go on the trip.
"Unfortunately, we can't call it a honeymoon," Ellis said.
The lesbian couple didn't join the debate about same-sex marriage rights until 2008, when Proposition 8 made it onto the state ballot.
"When we saw that first "Yes on 8" sign we became instant activists," Faul said.
The proposition, which a majority of voters passed, prohibits same-sex marriages in California. On Aug. 4, a federal judge in San Francisco overturned Prop. 8, ruling that it was unconstitutional.
Proposition 8's passage was a low point, but the ballot measure had a silver lining, the couple said. The proposition's passage galvanized the gay community and introduced them to new friends. And
Ellis and Faul have turned that setback for them into an advantage by since educating themselves on what rights they do and do not have as a lesbian couple in California. The more they learned, the more they knew they wanted to get married.
For example, Faul said, she was surprised to find out that if Ellis was dying in the hospital, technically she wouldn't be permitted to visit Ellis at her death bed because they're not married.
In time, the two said, today's debate will be viewed in the same light as blacks and women's struggles for equal rights.
"We're part of something historical," Ellis said. "I have two nephews, and 10 or 15 years from now they won't even believe it. It'll be shocking to them."
On Aug. 4, the two waited eagerly for U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling on the constitutionality of Prop 8. They waited from 9 a.m. to noon in front of a computer with a live feed to the courthouse, waiting for the announcement. It didn't come.
They waited until 12:05 p.m., 12:10 p.m., and by 12:15 p.m. they couldn't wait any longer and went their separate ways to run errands.
Moments later, the news broke. Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional.
Faul called Ellis, who was at the grocery store shopping for a party they were planning.
"Meanwhile, I'm in sandals, shorts and a T-shirt," Ellis said, chuckling. "We felt we had to run back to the courthouse before someone takes it away from us."
The couple wisely chose not to make the trip, as Walker anyhow didn't permit marriages immediately.
Faul is stoic when she talks about the "emotional yo-yo" effect she's been through in the last few months.
"The people who are so vocally against us, their time will be done soon," she said. "[Gay marriage] is not going to change anything. It's about feeling equal with any other couple…we're all people. We all believe the same, we all love the same."
Ellis, in contrast to her partner, shows her pain when she opens up about it.
"I'm certain our day will come," she said. "And that'll be a good day."