San Francisco court to rule on gay marriages

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Opponents of the decision by the San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom, to defy state law and allow marriage licences for gay and lesbian couples were appearing in court last night for hearings on the petitions of two groups.

By Monday night, 2,340 same-sex couples had taken their vows at City Hall since the "gender-neutral" marriage licences were introduced on Thursday. Hundreds of couples queued in a three-block-long line outside waiting to marry with the city's blessing.

"We felt that if we didn't make it by today we wouldn't be able to," said Deb Agarwal, 40, after she and her partner of six years, Diane Pizza, 55, were married by a city supervisor, one of the dozens of city officials deputised to officiate at the series of weddings.

In a brief for a court hearing, lawyers for the Alliance Defence Fund (ADF), which is trying to block gay weddings, said Mr Newsom was in violation of state law when he changed the rules. The mayor claims the equal protection clause of the California constitution makes denying marriage licences to gay couples illegal.

"The mayor and his cronies have attempted to short-circuit the legal process by being both judge and jury themselves," Benjamin Bull, a lawyer representing the ADF said.

The city's lawyers said local government agencies or officials are not barred from advancing their interpretations of the state constitution. They also claim plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that continuing to issue licences for same-sex couples would cause the irreparable harm necessary to obtain a court stay.

Denying same-sex couples the right to marry would cause greater harm, the city says.