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Calif. Court Ruling Renews Debate Over Gay Marriage

The California Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages in the state Thursday, striking down a ban on gay and lesbian nuptials as unconstitutional. Analysts examine reaction to the ruling and its possible impact on the gay marriage debate.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, the California Supreme Court overturns a ban on same-sex marriages. NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels begins with some background on the case.

  • SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour Correspondent:

    Cheers and excitement erupted at the courthouse in San Francisco upon news of today's decision. For thousands of same-sex couples, the ruling by the state's Supreme Court makes their unions in marriage legal.

    The decision makes California the second state to legalize gay marriage, after Massachusetts. And that was gratifying for San Francisco's mayor, Gavin Newsom.

    GAVIN NEWSOM, Mayor of San Francisco: It's about civil rights. It's about time…

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    In 2000, a California ballot measure overwhelmingly passed that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

    But in 2004, Newsom, on his own initiative, granted marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Thousands waited for a chance to be among the first to marry at City Hall.

  • AMY RENNERT:

    To be able to be married here in the rotunda of San Francisco City Hall is something I never dreamed would be possible. It's also political.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    But a few months later, the State Supreme Court ruled that the mayor did not have the power to grant licenses under state law.

    It did not, however, rule on the validity of the law, and a battle ensued in superior and state appeals courts. The state appeals court ruled against same-sex marriage.

    Last year, the Supreme Court agreed to weigh in again, taking up the city's case along with others brought by gay and lesbian couples. Today, the justices ruled 4-3 that the previous ban was unconstitutional and said domestic partnerships are not an acceptable substitute for marriage.

    Outside the courthouse, opponents said the court was legislating from the bench.

    RANDY THOMASSON, President, Campaign for Children and Families: This high court has done what no State Supreme Court has ever done: go against the vote of the people and create a whole new definition of civil rights.

    When civil rights become civil wrongs and destroy marriage in the process, it's not right anymore. This is intolerable; it is absolutely a disaster.

  • SPENCER MICHELS:

    But the fight in California is not over yet. Opponents are planning a new ballot initiative for November that would ban gay marriage in the state constitution.

    Across the U.S., 26 states have passed similar constitutional bans, while nine states and the District of Columbia have laws establishing civil unions or domestic partnerships.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Not surprisingly, there's strong reaction to the decision from both sides. Jeffrey Brown picks up that part of the story.