California court says gay marriages can proceed

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California’s Supreme Court gave the final green light on Wednesday for gay marriages to begin later this month, turning down requests for a delay.

A man walks to city hall holding a gay pride flag in San Francisco, May 15, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White

The most populous U.S. state’s highest court ruled last month that refusing homosexuals the right to wed violated the state constitution.

Opponents then asked the court to halt the start of gay weddings until November, when the state’s voters will decide a ballot measure that, if approved by a simple majority, will define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

“It would have been unprecedented to postpone constitutional rights based on speculation of how a political scenario may or may not play out,” San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera said.

“Folks can get married on June 17,” he said.

The court voted 4-3 to deny the petition to stay the decision. The same judges voted the same way on May 15 in the landmark decision, hailed by gay activists and condemned by social conservatives.

The court’s original ruling becomes final at 5 p.m. on June 16, opening the way for gay marriages to start the next day.

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“This is another four-to-three vote for legal chaos,” Glen Lavy, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, which is fighting against gay marriage, said in a statement.

“This decision is the most egregious case of judicial activism in modern American history. The refusal to wait for the people to decide by the constitutional process confirms that.”


Massachusetts is the only U.S. state that allows same-sex marriage, but offers licenses only to its own residents. California has no residency requirement, which means gays from across the United States will be able to go there to marry.

San Francisco, internationally known for its gay community, briefly allowed homosexuals to marry four years ago before a court ended the ceremonies. The legal battle that followed culminated in last month’s decision.

Gay marriage remains a topic of hot debate in U.S. politics. More than 25 states have constitutional amendments barring gay marriage.

The group behind the November California ballot measure against gay marriage expects to spend at least $10 million in the campaign.

Polls have showed contrasting trends. A Field poll published last week showed 51 percent in favor of gay marriage and 42 percent opposed. But a Los Angeles Times poll a week before found 54 percent backed the amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman while 35 percent opposed it.

Should that measure pass, gay marriages could again come to an end. But thousands of same-sex couples are expected to tie the knot over the summer.

Editing by David Storey and Alan Elsner