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California court upholds gay marriage ban

California's Supreme Court has upheld a referendum outlawing gay marriage but said the 18,000 same-sex weddings that took place before the ban would remain valid. Activists had been seeking to overturn the referendum, known as Proposition 8.

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AFP - California's Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a referendum which outlawed gay marriage, but said 18,000 same-sex weddings carried out before the ban would remain valid.

Gay and lesbian activists had been seeking to overturn the November referendum, known as Proposition 8, which redefined marriage in California as being unions between men and women only.

Opponents said the referendum was an illegal revision of the state's constitution and that the rights of minorities should not be subject to a majority vote.

However the California Supreme Court justices said in a 6-1 majority opinion that the referendum -- which passed by a margin of 52.5 to 47.5 percent -- was legal and should be allowed to remain.

The decision is a blow for gay-rights activists, who have recently celebrated notable victories elsewhere in the United States.

Crowds gathered outside the California Supreme Court building on Tuesday more than an hour before the ruling, and police set up barricades.

One same-sex marriage opponent carried a sign proclaiming: "Gay = Pervert."

Gay marriage supporters carried the rainbow flags that are symbols of the gay-rights movement. After the ruling was released, some of them chanted: "Shame on you, shame on you."

Frances Nicholson, one of the couples who married her long-time partner last year, described the decision as "terrible."

"It's heart-breaking to be left in a pocket of people with a right that should be available to everybody," she told CNN. "It's terrible."

"California is a forward-thinking state. And to be in a place where we were advanced a right of equality that is now denied to others is terrible."

However opponents of same-sex marriage applauded the court ruling.

"Today's decision is a victory for democracy and a victory for the civil rights of clergy, county clerks and Californians across the political spectrum who did not want to be forced by the government to approve of same-sex marriage," said Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative group that supported Proposition 8.

Tuesday's decision comes at a time when several other US states have introduced laws allowing same-sex marriage.

Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Iowa have all extended full marriage rights to gay couples, while New Hampshire and New York have edged closer to adopting such a law.

"Today's decision is dramatically out of step with where the nation is heading," Kat Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said in a blog post.

"In the past few weeks alone, there has been a tidal wave of momentum in favor of equality for same-sex couples. ... Across the country, public opinion is shifting decisively in our favor."

The latest ruling in California comes after a rollercoaster 12 months which has seen activists on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate lurch from jubilation to despair.

In May last year, California's Supreme Court voted 4-3 to legalize same-sex marriage, delighting gay activists in the most populous US state and sending thousands of same-sex couples rushing to tie the knot.

However the subject was forced back onto the political agenda by religious and social conservative groups, who gathered enough support for the issue to be put before voters at November 4 polls.

Rights activists swiftly challenged the legality of the referendum, saying it should not have been put on the ballot because it amounted to a revision of the state constitution and required a two-third votes in the legislature.
 

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