California begins marrying same-sex couples

Tuesday 17 June 2008 20.37
Gay marriage - Thousands expected to marry in California
Gay marriage - Thousands expected to marry in California

Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples in California are taking advantage of the resumption of legal same-sex marriages.

Marriage licences became generally available from 8am this morning (3pm Irish time), a month after a ban on such marriages was overturned.

A small number of symbolic weddings were performed yesterday.

Among the first couples married were Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, who were among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the California Supreme Court overturning the ban last month.

The happy couple emerged from Beverly Hills courthouse to cheers from a crowd of around 100 well-wishers before exchanging vows under blue skies and brilliant sunshine in a traditional Jewish wedding ceremony.

A group of around 20 protestors gathered near the wedding carrying banners with slogans against the union.

At the same time in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom officiated at the wedding of veteran campaigners Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 83, who exchanged vows after 56 years together.

The couple made international headlines in 2004 when they were married in the first round of same-sex marriages in San Francisco, only for their nuptials to later be declared illegal.

The legalisation of same-sex marriage in California is expected to create a mini-industry worth several hundred million dollars, as couples flock to the state from around the US to tie the knot.

That landmark ruling came after a long-running legal battle that began in 2000 when California voters approved a law declaring that only marriages between men and women could be legally recognised.

However, San Francisco and civil rights activists took a legal action arguing that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was unconstitutional and that the law should be struck down.

In 2005 the San Francisco Superior Court ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, finding that there was no justification for refusing to allow gay marriages.

But that decision was overturned in 2006 by the California Court of Appeal, which ruled in a 2-1 decision that the state's desire to ‘carry out the expressed wishes of a majority’ was sufficient to preserve the existing law.

California lawmakers have also voted in favour of gay marriage, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said that the matter is for the state's court system to decide on.

However, opponents are seeking to force the issue back onto the agenda and have gathered enough signatures for a proposal calling for California to ban same-sex marriage to be added to ballot papers at the elections on 4 November next.