SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The California Supreme Court overturned a
voter-approved gay marriage ban Thursday in a ruling that would make the nation's largest state the second one to allow gay and lesbian weddings.
The justices released the 4-3 decision, saying that domestic partnerships are not a good enough substitute for marriage in an opinion written by Chief Justice Ron George. Justices Joyce Kennard, Kathryn Werdegar and Carlos Moreno joined the majority.
Outside the courthouse, gay marriage supporters cried and cheered as news spread of the decision.
In striking down the ban, the court said, "In contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual's sexual orientation - like a person's race or gender - does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights."
While agreeing with many arguments of the majority, Justice Marvin Baxter said in a dissenting opinion that the high court overstepped its authority. Changes to marriage laws should be decided by the voters, Baxter wrote. Justices Ming Chin and Carol Corrigan joined in dissenting.
The cases were brought by the city of San Francisco, two dozen gay and lesbian couples, Equality California and another gay rights group in March 2004 after the court halted San Francisco's monthlong same-sex wedding march that took place at Mayor Gavin Newsom's direction.
"Today the California Supreme Court took a giant leap to ensure that everybody - not just in the state of California, but throughout the country - will have equal treatment under the law," said City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who argued the case for San Francisco.
The challenge for gay rights advocates, however, is not over.
A coalition of religious and social conservative groups is attempting to put a measure on the November ballot that would enshrine laws banning gay marriage in the state constitution.
The Secretary of State is expected to rule by the end of June whether the sponsors gathered enough signatures to qualify the marriage amendment, similar to ones enacted in 26 other states.
If voters pass the measure in November, it would overrule the court decision.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)