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— A federal appeals court on Thursday allowed Nebraska's ban on gay marriage to stay in place, blocking a federal judge's order for the state to begin recognizing gay marriages and civil unions.

The decision by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means that Nebraska's ban will continue until an appeal in the case is decided. Had the appeals court denied the request, Nebraska would have been ordered to recognize gay marriages and civil unions starting Monday.

The appeals court did not give a reason for its decision to stay the judge's ruling. But the 8th Circuit did order the appeal in Nebraska's case to be argued on May 12 along with three other states — Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota — defending gay marriage bans.

The appeals court decision came two days after Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson filed a motion to put on hold U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon's ruling last Monday striking down Nebraska's gay marriage ban.

Peterson had argued that the state should not be forced to recognize gay marriages until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether same-sex couples have the constitutional right to marry everywhere in the U.S. The Supreme Court announced Thursday that it will hear arguments over same-sex marriage on April 28. A decision is expected before July.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska sued the state in November on behalf of seven same-sex couples challenging the ban, which had passed with the approval of 70 percent of voters in 2000. In addition to prohibiting gay marriage, Nebraska's ban also forbids civil unions and legalized domestic partnerships.

ACLU Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said Thursday that her organization will continue to fight the ban.

"The discrimination that is enshrined in our constitution hurts our clients and countless other Nebraska families," Conrad said. "One day, Nebraska's promise of 'equality before the law' will ring true for all who call our state home."

Peterson said the appeals court order "provides current stability in Nebraska's marriage licensing process."

Bataillon said in issuing his injunction that Nebraska's ban prevents same-sex couples from getting medical and financial benefits that are available to heterosexual married couples.

Bataillon previously struck down Nebraska's gay marriage ban in 2005, but the 8th Circuit reinstated it in 2006.

Gay marriage is allowed in 37 states and the District of Columbia.