Calif. Plots Legal Steps on Gay Marriage

Facing increased pressure to intervene in San Francisco's same-sex marriage (search) debate, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer (search) said he'll go straight to the state Supreme Court to try to resolve the deeply divisive issue.

"The people of California who have enacted laws that recognize marriage only between a man and a woman, and the same-sex couples who were provided marriage licenses in San Francisco deserve a speedy resolution to the question of the legality of these licenses," Lockyer said late Monday.

Lockyer said he would ask the state's highest court on Friday whether San Francisco's issuing of same-sex marriage licenses violates state law, which designates marriage as only between heterosexual couples.

The announcement from Lockyer, a leading Democrat and potential rival to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search) in the 2006 election, also was an attempt to stave off criticism from Republicans, who have been upset at the reluctance of the state's top lawyer to enter the debate.

Schwarzenegger ordered Lockyer on Friday to "take immediate steps" to get a court ruling to make the city stop the gay weddings. More than 3,200 same-sex couples have been married since San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to give out the licenses Feb. 12.

Conservative groups have sued the city, but two judges declined to immediately halt the wedding spree. The next hearing in those cases isn't scheduled until late March.

San Francisco officials had already filed their own lawsuit with the state Supreme Court, arguing that California's prohibitions on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court is not required to take either case, and could decide to wait until the issues get worked out in the lower courts before they are ripe for a hearing.

Former Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren planned to criticize Lockyer on Tuesday. Lungren, who is running in the primary for the open seat in the 3rd Congressional District, has called on his successor to "do his constitutional duty to immediately enforce California marriage law."

Critics of the marriages, including the Campaign for California Families, argues that gay weddings harm the 61 percent of California voters who supported Proposition 22, a ballot initiative in 2000 that said the state would only recognize marriage between a man and a woman as valid.

Newsom, a Democrat, maintains he is following a higher law — "the state constitution, which explicitly outlaws discrimination of any kind," spokesman Peter Ragone said. "We believe the city's actions are both lawful and a recognition of the love that many couples share.

"The bottom line is the legal process is working and those who would suggest otherwise do so only for political gain. We believe we are upholding the constitution. Others may disagree. We look forward to the court's ruling."

Over the weekend, Schwarzenegger said he was worried about the potential for violence when protesters clashed with gay couples and their supporters outside City Hall. Ragone disputed the governor's view, saying things were peaceful.

Many of the weddings have been held on the building's grand marble staircase, while groups of people outside have turned the scene into a joyous, marathon wedding reception with bands, songs, cheers and cake.

Also Monday, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of two homosexual couples seeking to wed who were denied marriage licenses in Beverly Hills. The couples also hope to challenge the state's ban on same-sex marriages.