The city of San Francisco (search), which has sanctioned more than 2,800 gay marriages in the last week, sued the state of California on Thursday, challenging its prohibitions on same-sex marriages (search) on constitutional grounds.
"The city and county of San Francisco is going on the offensive today to protect the mayor's action," said City Attorney Dennis Herrera said.
Mayor Gavin Newsom (search) said he believed it was appropriate to start the process of giving out marriage licenses before the city's attorneys had gone to court to challenge the state's marriage laws, but that he's glad the question is now in the courts.
"I think what we have done is affirm marriage here in San Francisco," Newsom said. "We affirmed it because we are celebrating people coming together in their unions. I feel affirmed as a married man by what's happened here in San Francisco."
Two judges are considering challenges from conservative groups seeking to halt the marriage spree that began last Thursday. The city's lawsuit asks that those cases be consolidated into one case to be heard by Superior Court Judge James Warren (search).
A lawyer for a group trying to halt the gay marriages described the city's move as a delaying tactic.
"This is as much a maneuver to keep this in court and keep the issue alive as it is anything else," said Benjamin Bull, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, which also filed a consolidation motion but asked that Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay hear the case.
Newsom has said that he was obliged to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples to avoid violating the equal protection clause of the California Constitution, a position opponents have attacked as irrelevant to whether his actions violate the state's marriage laws.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said it was his duty to defend laws that say the state will only recognize marriages between a man and a woman as valid.
"The issue of whether state statutes prohibiting same-sex marriages violate constitutional protections is emerging as one of the great legal and civil rights issues of our day, and the question must be answered by our courts," said Lockyer, who added that he supports extending benefits to same-sex couples through domestic partnerships and civil union laws.
Newsom also repeated his invitation to President Bush to meet some of the same-sex couples who have married in the past week before deciding whether to back a proposed federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
"I challenge him to learn a little about the extraordinary partnerships that have now been recognized, that have now been finally sanctified," Newsom said.
Earlier this week, Bush said he was troubled by gay weddings in San Francisco but declined to say whether he was close to backing a constitutional ban.
"I think the president is wrong on this," Newsom said.
The city, in its lawsuit, is asking Warren to declare unconstitutional the three sections of the California Family Code (search) that define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"There will be a determination in these lawsuits about whether the restriction against same-sex couples marrying in California violates the equal protection and due process clauses" of the California Constitution, said Jon Davidson, an attorney with the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Davidson said city officials are bringing the suit to counter efforts by the conservative groups to block the city from issuing any more marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
On Tuesday, Warren gave the city the choice of ending the same-sex wedding parade or returning to court in late March to show why the process has not been halted. The city said it would continue issuing such licenses until forced to stop.