Image: Marriage denied
Paul Sakuma  /  AP
Kristina Haas, left, and her partner, Jennifer Briz, are emotional after they were denied marriage by a city clerk at San Francisco City Hall on Wednesday, a day after voters put a stop to same-sex marriage in California.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/5/2008 7:06:33 PM ET 2008-11-06T00:06:33

Gay-rights advocates went to court Wednesday to press for same-sex marriages a day after California voters dealt them a stunning setback by approving a ban on such unions.

The constitutional amendment approved Tuesday will limit marriage to heterosexual couples, the first time such a vote has taken place in a state where gay unions are legal.

Proposition 8 overturns a state Supreme Court decision in May that gave gay couples the right to wed and creates uncertainty about the legal status of 18,000 same-sex couples who have tied the knot since then.

Even as the last votes were being counted Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and other opponents filed a challenge with the state Supreme Court.

They contend that California's ballot cannot be used to undermine one group's access to rights enjoyed by other citizens.

They argue that initiatives that make "fundamental" changes to core principles of the state constitution must first be approved by the state Legislature, then sent to voters for passage.

Gay-rights advocates in a state so often at the forefront of liberal social change say the fight is only beginning.

"We pick ourselves up and trudge on," Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said early Wednesday when it appeared Proposition 8 was headed for passage. "There has been enormous movement in favor of full equality in eight short years. That is the direction this is heading, and if it's not today or it's not tomorrow, it will be soon."

"Star Trek" actor George Takei, who married his longtime boyfriend Brad Altman on Sept. 14, said the proposition "may be the basis for taking it to the Supreme Court of the United States." 

Altman said no matter what happens, he'll never take off his wedding ring. He said his relationship with Takei will "live long and prosper."

Long-lasting vows
Some newlyweds took comfort that millions of Californians had voted to validate their relationships.

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"I'm really OK," said Diana Correia, of Berkeley, who married her partner of 18 years, Cynthia Correia, on Sunday in front of the couple's two children and 80 relatives and friends. "I hope the marriage holds, but we are already married in our hearts, so nobody can take that away."

Jake Rowe, 27, and James Eslick, 29, were in the midst of getting married at Sacramento City Hall on Wednesday morning when someone from the clerk's office stopped the wedding.

In San Francisco, county clerk Karen Hong Lee said gay couples were asked to wait until the office received guidance from state officials.

Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Debra Bowen, said initiatives typically take effect the day after an election, although the results from Tuesday's races will not be certified until Dec. 13.

The state attorney general's office has yet to decide whether same-sex marriages conducted after Election Day would be valid, said spokeswoman Dana Simas.

Not all county clerks stopped sanctioning same-sex marriages. Grace Chavez, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County registrar's office in Norwalk, said gay weddings were being performed in the first-floor chapel.

Tuesday's vote drops the number of states that allow gay marriage to one, though it will soon rise again to two.

A ruling by Massachusetts' highest court made same-sex marriage legal there in 2004. A ruling last month by the Connecticut Supreme Court will make gay marriage legal there beginning next week. All other states specifically forbid it except for New York, which recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and Rhode Island, where state law is silent on the subject.

'Great day for marriage'
Proposition 8 backers rejoiced.

"People believe in the institution of marriage," said Frank Schubert, co-manager of the Yes on 8 campaign. "It's one institution that crosses ethnic divides, that crosses partisan divides. ... People have stood up because they care about marriage and they care a great deal."

"This is a great day for marriage. The people of California stood up for traditional marriage and reclaimed this great institution," said Ron Prentice, chairman of ProtectMarriage.com — Yes on 8. "We are gratified that voters chose to protect traditional marriage and to enshrine its importance in the state constitution. We trust that this decision will be respected by all Californians."

With almost all precincts reporting, election returns showed the measure winning with 52 percent.

Exit polls for The Associated Press found that Proposition 8 received critical support from black voters who flocked to the polls to support Barack Obama for president. Blacks voted strongly in favor of the ban, while whites narrowly opposed it and Latinos and Asians were split.

Costly campaign
Amendments to ban gay marriage were also approved in Arizona and Florida — but such unions in those states were never legal.

Similar bans had prevailed in 27 states before Tuesday's elections, but none were in California's situation. About 18,000 gay couples, many of them from other states, married in California since the state Supreme Court ruling in May that overturned a 2000 ban. The state attorney general, Jerry Brown, has said those marriages will remain valid, although legal experts have said it will have to be resolved in court whether existing gay marriages would be nullified.

Spending for and against the amendment reached $74 million, making it the most expensive social-issues campaign in U.S. history and the most expensive campaign this year outside the race for the White House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Same-sex marriage ban

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