SAN FRANCISCO California's supreme court announced on Friday that it will rule next week on whether to uphold a ban on same-sex marriages that critics say violates civil rights in the most populous U.S. state.
The ruling will also decide the fate of about 18,000 same-sex couples who were married last summer before California voters outlawed the practice through passage of the Proposition 8 constitutional amendment in the November, 2008 election.
The ruling in the so-called Prop 8 case will be issued on Tuesday, the court said on its website.
Legal support for same-sex unions has surged in recent weeks, with Iowa and Vermont becoming the third and fourth states to legalize gay marriage. In addition, Maine's governor has signed a gay-marriage bill, the New York State Assembly passed similar legislation, and New Hampshire is debating it.
The vast majority of U.S. states forbid such unions, though, and the ban in California, widely considered a socially liberal, trend-setting state, was seen as a key victory by social conservatives.
It also led to the legal battle in the state's top court.
The supreme court justices in a ruling last spring declared same-sex marriage legal. The passage of the constitutional amendment, however, has placed the case back on the court agenda.
Some of the justices who supported same-sex unions last year expressed reservations during oral arguments this year about the legal justifications for overturning a voter-approved amendment of the state constitution.
(Reporting by Peter Henderson, Editing by Paul Simao)