California ban on gay marriage thrown out

The Supreme Court in California has overturned a ban on gay marriage, opening the way for the state to become the second in America to permit same-sex couples to wed.

The decision was hailed by gay rights activists as a watershed moment in the battle for equal treatment of homosexuals in the United States. Conservative groups voiced their anger and vowed to redouble their efforts to put the issue before California voters in a ballot initiative in November.

Passage of such an initiative, defining marriage as being only between a man and a woman, could ultimately override yesterday's court decision. In the meantime, however, the state will be obliged to begin officiating gay marriages, perhaps as early as next month. Hitherto, Massachusetts had been the only state offering full marriage to gays and lesbians.

The impact of the ruling could quickly spill far beyond the borders of California, rekindling debate on gay rights across the country in the run-up to the presidential election in November.

"I'm profoundly grateful. This is a historic day," said the San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who argued the city's case.

"Everybody being entitled to equal protection under the law probably carried the day," he said.