The promise of marriage equality just got a whole lot more real for same-sex couples in California.


Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who last week struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage — with a sweeping ruling that recognized that mandated discrimination (whether implemented by legislative action or voter initiative) violates the U.S. Constitution –had issued a temporary stay on his decision.


On Thursday, he lifted the stay with a decision that will allow same-sex couples to marry in California, beginning on August 18.


The ruling effectively makes California the sixth — and, by far, the largest –state to permit same-sex marriage. The others are are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and New Hampshire. The District of Columbia also respects marriage equality.


California briefly allowed same-sex marriages before a period of legal, legislative and political wranging that concluded when voters narrowly endorsed the discriminatory Proposition 8 in 2008. Now, Rick Jacobs of the Courage Campaign says, "Today’s ruling means that in less than one week, equality under the law will be restored for millions of loving families across California."


This does not mean the issue is settled.


Anti-equality groups will fight in the courts, beginning with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ultimately, it is likely to end up in Washington, where marriage equality foes have friends on the U.S. Supreme Court bench — although not, perhaps, as many as they imagine.


Judge Walker suggested in his ruling that it will be hard for jurists who respect the Constitution to reject his ruling. "Based on the trial record, which establishes that Proposition 8 violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights, the court cannot conclude that proponents have shown a likelihood of success on appeal," explained the veteran jurist.


Beyond the courts, the marriage equality fight will be central to the fall political debate in California — where Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown and Republican candidate Meg Whitman are on opposite sides of the issue — as well as other states.


But weddings are usually complicated affairs. The good news is that we’ve set the date.