California court to hear gay marriage ban case

Wed Nov 19, 2008 9:26pm EST
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By Peter Henderson

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a legal challenge against the state's voter-approved ban on gay marriage and let the ban stand in the meantime.

A decision by the same court in May opened marriage to same-sex couples in America's most populous state, one of a handful of states, provinces and mostly European countries where such unions are recognized.

When state voters passed the ban on November 4, social conservatives celebrated, but nationwide protests by gays and other ban opponents since then have given the debate new life.

The court case also pits two fundamental concepts of U.S. democracy against one another, with gay marriage advocates saying the proposition would open the doors to systematic repression of minorities and opponents saying courts must recognize the will of the people under separation of powers doctrine.

"I am optimistic that the Supreme Court will affirm that separate is not equal," San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said in a statement. He has compared the fight for gay marriage to the 1960s civil rights battle against majority-tolerated segregation.

Some 52 percent of voters agreed to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

"This is a great day for the rule of law and the voters of California," said Andrew Pugno, counsel for the gay marriage ban proponents, who also wanted the matter settled in court.

Trend-setting California is divided over the issue, with cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles more open to gay marriage, and inland valleys, often compared to the socially conservative Midwest, against it.   Continued...

<p>Newlyweds Sharon Papo (R) and Amber Weiss (2nd R) pick up their marriage certificate after exchanging wedding vows at City Hall on the first full day of legal same-sex marriages in San Francisco, California June 17, 2008. REUTERS/Erin Siegal</p>