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California Supreme Court Voids Same Sex Marriages - 2004-08-12

The California Supreme Court has annulled the marriages of more than 4,000 gay and lesbian couples that were sanctioned by the city of San Francisco. The court also ruled Thursday that San Francisco's mayor overstepped his authority when he authorized the unions.

The court ruled that San Francisco violated California law in issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in February and March. The court also nullified the same-sex marriages performed in the city during that period.

Jordan Lawrence of the Alliance Defense Fund, which had challenged the same-sex unions, applauded the ruling. "The clear message of the state supreme court is that local officials are not allowed to defy the law, and the law is established by the people," he said.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said he will honor the court decision, but disagrees with it. He notes that same-sex couples from around the United States and from eight countries came to San Francisco to be married. "I am proud of the people that had the courage to make their way to San Francisco, those San Franciscans that had the courage to stand up on principle and say 'I do.' And there is nothing any judge, lawyer, politician will ever do to take away the moment those couples shared together," he said.

The San Francisco city attorney and several civil liberties organizations are still pursuing the matter in court, challenging the status of a California law that limits marriage to a man and woman. The court did not say whether the state Constitution would permit same-sex unions if the law were changed, but said the decision must be made by the legislature and courts, not local officials.

The question of gay marriage is being addressed in a number of states, and a constitutional challenge led the Massachusetts supreme court to endorse same-sex unions, which began there in May.

President Bush has called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, making the question a national issue in this U.S. election year.