Calif. Gay Couples Can Marry This Month

California's highest court Wednesday refused to stay its decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the state, clearing the final hurdle for gay couples to start tying the knot this month.

Conservative religious and legal groups had asked the California Supreme Court to stop its May 15 order requiring state and local officials to sanction same-sex unions from becoming effective until voters have the chance to consider the issue in November. The justices' decisions typically become final after 30 days.

An initiative to ban gay marriage has qualified for the Nov. 4 ballot. Its passage would overrule the court's decision by amending the state constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman.

In arguing for a delay, the amendment's sponsors predicted chaos if couples married in the next few months, only to have the practice halted at the ballot box.

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The four justices who denied the stay request were the same judges who joined in the majority opinion that found withholding marriage from same-sex couples constituted discrimination. The three dissenting justices said they thought a hearing on whether the stay should be granted was warranted.

The majority did not elaborate on its reasons for denying the stay, but simply issued a one-page order saying its original ruling on marriage would be final at 5 p.m. on June 16.

Wednesday's denial clears the way for gay couples in the nation's most populous state to get married starting June 17, when state officials have said counties must start issuing new gender-neutral marriage licenses.

Gay rights advocates had urged the court to let same-sex marriages begin as quickly as possible, arguing there was no legal basis for continuing to subject gay couples to unequal treatment.

"These petitions clearly sought to do something that went far beyond the issue of same-sex marriage," said San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office represented the city in successfully suing to overturn California's one man-one woman marriage laws. "It would be unprecedented to postpone constitutional rights based on a speculation of how a political scenario may or may not have played out."

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