SAN FRANCISCO — In a monumental victory for the gay rights movement, the California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage Thursday in a ruling that would allow same-sex couples in the nation's biggest state to tie the knot.
Domestic partnerships are not a good enough substitute for marriage, the justices ruled 4-3 in an opinion written by Chief Justice Ron George.
Outside the courthouse, gay marriage supporters cried and cheered as news spread of the decision.
"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," the court wrote.
The city of San Francisco, two dozen gay and lesbian couples and gay rights groups sued in March 2004 after the court halted San Francisco's monthlong same-sex wedding march.
"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.
Coalition to challenge
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 trump the court's decision.
California already offers same-sex couples who register as domestic partners the same legal rights and responsibilities as married spouses, including the right to divorce and to sue for child support.
But, "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," Chief Justice Ron George wrote for the court's majority.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Marvin Baxter agreed with many arguments of the majority but said the court overstepped its authority. Changes to marriage laws should be decided by the voters, Baxter wrote.
Massachusetts is now the only U.S. state to allow gay marriage. Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont permit same-sex civil unions that grant largely the same state rights as married couples but lack the full, federal legal protections of marriage.
"I respect the court's decision and as governor, I will uphold its ruling," said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a statement. "Also, as I have said in the past, I will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn this (ruling)."
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