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Two states dealt gay marriage setbacks

Two states dealt gay marriage setbacks

The California supreme court on Thursday ordered an immediate halt to gay marriages in San Francisco, delivering a victory to conservatives who have fought for a month to block the ceremonies. Meanwhile, Massachusetts lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage but allow civil unions. The news is bad, but the battle is far from finished. The Massachusetts amendment must still weather several additional votes and anticipated legislative maneuvering by opponents. Meanwhile, the California court did not rule on the legality of gay marriages, and justices indicated they would decide in the coming months whether San Francisco's mayor had the authority to allow the weddings. Of the California decision, Jon Davidson, senior counsel for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in its Western regional office in Los Angeles, said, "All that happened today is that matters were put on hold. This ruling hits the 'pause' button, not the 'stop' button. Today is just the beginning of our fight on behalf of these married couples and others who have not yet gotten married. This case will ultimately resolve whether the California constitution requires that same-sex couples be given the equal right to marry." Added Cheryl Jacques, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign: "It's extremely disappointing that San Francisco is being denied the opportunity to treat its citizens equally under law. Thousands of same-sex couples now know the security that comes with a marriage license. To even temporarily deny that opportunity to other citizens is very unfortunate." The action by California's highest court came two weeks after state attorney general Bill Lockyer and a conservative group asked the seven justices to immediately block the marriages, with more than 3,700 same-sex couples having wed at San Francisco's City Hall so far. The dispute began February 12, when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom ordered his administration to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A steady stream of gay and lesbian couples from two dozen states have traveled to be married at San Francisco's City Hall, just one block from where the state supreme court sits. California's top court did not immediately address whether Newsom has the legal power to authorize the marriages, which contravene a state law and voter-approved ballot measure that say marriage is a union between a man and a woman. The justices also did not address whether the California constitution would permit gay marriage, as Newsom claims. In Massachusetts, the earliest a ban could end up on a statewide ballot is November 2006, more than two years after same-sex couples can start getting married in the state. Due to the elaborate constitutional amendment process, the ban must be approved by the legislature at least three more times this year--beginning perhaps as soon as Thursday night--and then again during the 2005-2006 legislative session. Then it would go before voters in 2006. The Massachusetts proposal was adopted 129-69 with the help of several gay marriage advocates, triggering speculation that they could withdraw their support on the critical final vote needed before the end of this year's constitutional convention. Under a landmark high court decision issued in November and reaffirmed in February, gay marriage will become legal in Massachusetts on May 17. Reaching any accord in the capitol has been difficult, with lawmakers as divided as the general public on the issue. Lawmakers suspended their last constitutional convention February 12 after two days of emotional debate ended in impasse. Whatever action Massachusetts lawmakers take should not bear too much weight nationally because it still must clear several legislative hurdles before reaching voters, said Arline Isaacson, cochair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus: "So for at least 2 1/2 years, gay people will be able to marry, and that's what has upset non-Massachusetts folks the most." By 6 a.m. Thursday, hundreds of people stood at the Massachusetts statehouse entrance in Boston, and others chanted, waved flags, and sang gospel music on the sidewalks. "No hatred, just loving biblical truth," read posters held by some of the opponents of gay marriage. Lynn Tibbets, 50, of Boston, held a sign urging, "No discrimination in the constitution." "It used to just make me mad--the people on the other side. Now it just makes me sad," Tibbets said as she choked back tears.

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