There were cheers outside San Francisco City Hall at 12:24 Pacific time Thursday afternoon as news emerged that U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker had denied a request to delay enforcement of his ruling against Proposition 8. But those cheers were mitigated a few minutes later when details of the judge’s order were revealed: Walker continued to delay enforcement of his decision until August 18, giving the Yes on 8 supporters of the measure ample time to seek a stay from the 9th Circuit or even the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

Judge: Calif. gay marriages resume Aug. 18 unless appeals court acts

The order essentially “split the baby” –giving both sides of the same-sex marriage lawsuit something. Attorneys challenging the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment wanted Walker to deny the stay and bar the government from enforcing Proposition 8 immediately. Attorneys defending Proposition 8 wanted Walker to grant an extended stay until the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals could rule on the merits of the case.

Many same-sex couples –who had gathered outside San Francisco city hall and elsewhere around the state since before dawn— attempted to apply for marriage licenses following news of Walker’s order, but news reports from CBS and others indicated that city officials were not yet processing the applications, saying they had not yet received Walker’s ruling.

Parties interested in Proposition 8, which was passed by voters in November 2008, have been waiting since August 4, when Walker issued his ruling that the voter-passed amendment to the state constitution violated the federal constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. Immediately after issuing that ruling, Walker granted a request for a temporary stay –meaning he would not officially “enter” his judgment in Perry v. Schwarzenegger until he had a chance to consider the request for an extended stay.

Many observers believed Walker would issue an extended stay pending a 9th Circuit ruling in the case. But last week’s decision by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Attorney General Jerry Brown to oppose a stay was seen by many as tipping the balance in favor of denying the extended stay.

Judge Walker’s decision on the merits of the case and on whether to limit the stay until August 18 are likely to be the final words. Attorneys for Yes on 8 have already begun the process of appealing the merits of the decision; they are likely today to appeal Walker’s ruling concerning a stay.