George Michael is a most happy fellow these days: He's kicking off his first North American tour in 17 years and same-sex marriage has just been legalized in California.

"It's way overdue," the 44-year-old English pop star told The Associated Press. "It's something that happened ... almost without a whisper in England, but it was basically because we weren't that concerned about the word 'marriage."'

Michael, who is openly gay, said, "because this is a much more religious society, there are a huge number of people who want (their) unions to be part of something that they can place in their religion, so (marriage is) much more important here. I think that's why it's so long in arriving here, but I think it's fantastic, obviously."

Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples rushed to county clerks' offices throughout California this week to obtain marriage licenses and exchange vows as same-sex marriage became legal Monday afternoon.

The next day, Michael kicked off the multi-city "25 Live" tour at the San Diego Sports Arena.

Why so long between concerts here?

"The '90s were a bit of a disaster for me in so many ways. On a personal level, I don't think I could have toured. Also, I had some physical problems with my back that are now sorted and I just wasn't in the right state of mind," he told the AP.

Michael, who recently released his greatest-hits album, "Twenty Five," in the United States, has said this will be his last arena tour because he wants to lead a quieter life.

"I have got other interests than just making music. I would like to follow those interests through. You never know, in five years I might be back here begging you all to forgive me," he said. "But I really think I can do much more constructive work as an artist if I step out of this again."

Michael sang in the 1980s pop group Wham! before stepping out for a successful solo career. His hits include "Faith," "Father Figure" and "One More Try."

He has had several run-ins with the law, on charges ranging from drug possession to lewd conduct.