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California Judge Turns Over State's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

A San Francisco judge has ruled that California's ban on same-sex marriage violates the state's constitution. Gay-rights advocates are claiming a victory, but supporters and opponents say the issue of gay marriage is far from settled, in California or other U.S. states.

The judge ruled in favor of a dozen gay couples and the city of San Francisco, which last year issued thousands of marriage licenses to gays and lesbians in violation of California law. The courts had ordered a stop to the practice and voided the marriages, but Judge Richard Kramer said Monday there is no rational purpose for denying marriage to gay couples.

The conservative Alliance Defense Fund said it would appeal the decision. The group had joined the California attorney general in arguing against the expansion of marriage rights to same-sex couples.

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who last year authorized more than 4,000 same-sex marriage licenses, was pleased with Monday's ruling, but said that the issue is not settled. "I know this is a long fight. I'm not naive to the challenges that lie ahead of us, so while
I'm ecstatic, to be quite frank about the decision, I'm also cognizant of the challenge ahead," he said.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has said he expects the case to make its way to the California supreme court.

Some opponents of gay marriage hope to bypass the courts, and are working to place a constitutional amendment on the California ballot to prohibit same-sex unions. Voters in 11 US states approved similar measures in the 2004 election.

The gay marriage debate has raged throughout the United States since 2003, when the Massachusetts supreme court said a law prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the Massachusetts constitution.

Marriage law in the United States is determined by the states, but gay marriage became an issue in last year's national election, when President Bush expressed support for a possible amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would ban same-sex unions in all states.