COLUMBIA - Gov. Nikki Haley's Democratic challenger says South Carolina should "pause" in defending against a legal challenge to the state's gay marriage ban, and a Republican state Senate leader also says he believes the end of the ban is inevitable.

Sen. Vincent Sheheen said in a written statement the state should wait for the nation's highest court to rule.

"The U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide this issue," said Sheheen, D-Camden, adding that his personal opposition to gay marriage has not changed. "When that decision is given, we must come together and abide by the law of the land."

Sheheen, who is challenging Haley for a second time in November, issued his statement days after a federal appeals court ruled Virginia's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. The Carolinas are in the same judicial circuit as Virginia.

Within hours of Monday's ruling, North Carolina's attorney general said it would be "futile" for his office to continue defending that state's ban.

However, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said his office will continue defending state law. Haley quickly agreed.

On Wednesday, South Carolina Equality and the American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina called on Wilson to drop his defense and asked people to sign a petition that says "marriage discrimination in South Carolina is indefensible."

Haley's spokesman, Doug Mayer, said Friday her position has not wavered.

"The governor is charged with defending and executing the laws and constitution of South Carolina, and she will continue to do just that at every turn," he said.

South Carolina legislators passed a law banning same-sex marriage in 1996. A decade later, 78 percent of voters approved making the ban part of the state constitution. Both Haley, then a House member, and Sheheen voted in 2005 to put that question to voters and, in 2007, to ratify the amendment.

The Sheheen campaign had said Monday that he would monitor the court proceedings, following the 4th Circuit ruling. On Thursday, Sheheen said the state should "pause in the legal battles" and await a decision by the nation's highest court.

Petition candidate Tom Ervin took a stronger stance, saying government does not belong in the bedroom and further action wastes taxpayers' money.

"My personal faith affirms that marriage is between a man and a woman but under our Constitution, people in this country are afforded equal protection under our laws," he said Tuesday. "This means that anyone should be free to marry the person they love."

Election officials certified last month that Ervin had collected more than the 10,000 signatures of registered voters required to get on the ballot. The former legislator and judge said Friday he voted for the constitutional amendment in 2006 but to pursue any appeal now is pointless.

Meanwhile, state Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin said public acceptance of gay marriage in South Carolina and the rest of the nation has increased exponentially in the last decade, and he thinks it's "just a matter of time" before same-sex couples can marry in South Carolina.

Still, he agrees with Wilson's stance.

"It's not the attorney general's prerogative to decide which part of the constitution he'll defend or not defend," said Martin, R-Pickens. "He might not do it as aggressively. I think all of us understand that our prospects don't look good."

Prior rulings make it an equal protection issue, he said.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond is the second federal appellate court to overturn gay marriage bans, after the Denver circuit, and is the first to affect the South. It was one of more than 20 legal decisions around the country favoring gay marriage proponents since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

"How I personally believe from a religious conviction will not change but the fact of the matter is, the policy definitely will change," Martin said. "If we lose in court, we're going to comply, though I still won't approve."