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Thousands of California Gays Expected to Wed After June 16

Thousands of same-sex weddings are expected in California after June 16, the day the California Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriages takes effect. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, the gay marriage issue is not yet settled in the state. Voters will weigh in on the question in November.

In a 4-3 decision May 15, the California Supreme Court struck down a voter-approved law that restricted marriage to a man and woman. The court said the state constitution's guarantee of equal rights gives same-sex couples the right to marry, so the law banning gay unions, approved by voters eight years ago, is unconstitutional.

The ruling was good news for Michael Galluccio, 46, and his partner, Jon Holden Galluccio, 44. The same-sex couple lives in suburban Los Angeles.

Michael and Jon met in college and have been together for 26 years. In the 1990s, they adopted two HIV-positive babies, named Adam and Madison, as well as Madison's older sister, Rosa. Today, the men are also grandparents, and live with their two younger children. Michael says they plan to marry.

"For me personally, it is so much about right, what is right and what is fair and what kind of world I want to raise my kids in," he said. "And I do not want to raise my kids in a world where their family is different just because the two parents who happen to be in love are both men."

In 2007, the couple registered in California as domestic partners, but Jon says that is not enough.

"There is only one accurate way of describing what we have with each other and with our family, and that is marriage," Jon added.

The dispute over same-sex unions made headlines in 2003 and 2004. The Massachusetts Supreme Court authorized gay marriage in that state, and then the city of San Francisco issued marriage licenses to nearly 4,000 same-sex couples in defiance of California law.

The California Supreme Court voided those unions because they violated the state law that limits marriage to a man and a woman. With the law overturned, on the evening of June 16, California will join Massachusetts as the second U.S. state to allow gay marriages.

Lorri Jean, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, calls the ruling a landmark that she says ends decades of discrimination in the state. But the issue is not settled.

"We spent a number of days celebrating this decision," she said. "It was so great. Now we are preparing for battle because there are right-wing forces in our state and around the country who want to try to take this right away from us. And we are going to fight them with everything we have got."

The decision outraged some. Opponents have collected petition signatures to qualify a measure for the November ballot that would change the state constitution, limiting marriage to a man and a woman.

Robert Tyler, general counsel for the conservative group Advocates for Faith and Freedom, helped with the petition drive in suburban Murrieta, California. He says gays and lesbians have always been able to marry, just as anyone else can.

"They can get married," he explained. "They just cannot marry another person of the same gender. You know, you have the same rights as anybody else because marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and it always has been."

Tyler says governments already place restrictions on who can marry, excluding unions, for example, between close relatives, and banning polygamy.

"Why do we do that? Why is polygamy no longer acceptable in America? Because we know it is not the best thing for the kids," he added. "We know it is not the best thing for families. We know it is the best thing for society."

A total of 27 U.S. states have amended their constitutions to limit marriage to a man and woman. If California's measure passes, the legal question will be closed in the state. Gay marriage will be banned here. If the measure fails to pass, same-sex marriages will continue.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger does not support same-sex marriages, but he opposes changing to the state constitution to ban them.

A recent survey by the Field Poll organization shows a slight majority of Californians support the right to same-sex marriage, but the pollster says the vote in November could go either way.

Thousands of gay and lesbian couples are expected to tie the knot in California. If the proposal to change the state constitution passes, the courts will decide the status of the gay and lesbian couples who have already married.