SAN FRANCISCO - The California Supreme Court has rejected petitions to delay its historic same-sex marriage decision, clearing the way for gay couples to marry later this month.
The court's action yesterday on the case - which makes it possible for same-sex unions to begin June 17 - was unusually quick. Most appeals, even unsuccessful ones, trigger a 30- to 60-day delay in the effective date of a ruling. Acting in closed session, the court voted 4-3 to reject petitions by Christian groups that it reconsider its May 15 ruling. The court also refused to delay the effective date of the decision until after the November election, when voters will consider a constitutional amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage.
The court's action means the marriage ruling becomes effective at 5 p.m. on June 16. Counties and cities are expected to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples the following day.
Voting against delaying the effective date of the May 15 ruling were Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carlos R. Moreno, the same four who joined the ruling to expand constitutional protections for gays and permit them to wed.
Voting to reconsider the decision were Justices Marvin R. Baxter, Ming W. Chin and Carol A. Corrigan, who dissented in the marriage ruling.
The court was similarly divided when it decided to expand constitutional protections to gays and give them the right to marry.
Christian groups backing the November measure to reinstate the marriage ban warned that gays who marry before then may have their marriages nullified if voters approve the measure. Legal analysts, however, think the marriages would remain intact even if voters decide to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.
Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, said the court's decision "reveals the political agenda of a handful of judges."
"Judges acting as judges and not as legislators would have granted the stay," Staver said. "The battle over marriage is far from over and will not be decided by four judges. The people will decide in November."
Shannon Price Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, praised the court "for ruling on the petitions so quickly and for allowing its historic victory for fairness and opportunity to go into effect without further delay."
"Every day, public support for the freedom to marry is growing," said Minter, who helped argue the case for gay marriage to the court.
Maura Dolan writes for the Los Angeles Times.