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Court: No quick halt of gay marriages

SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court declined a request by the state attorney general yesterday to immediately shut down San Francisco's gay weddings and to nullify the nearly 3,500 marriages already performed. At the prodding of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Attorney General Bill Lockyer asked the court to intervene in the emotionally charged debate while justices consider the legality of the marriages. But the justices declined, and told the city and a conservative group that opposes gay marriages to file new legal briefs by March 5.

Lockyer has been under fire from every side since San Francisco, under the directive of Mayor Gavin Newsom, began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples two weeks ago. More than 3,400 couples have tied the knot since then.

"It's a matter of statewide concern and voters want to know, Californians want to know and couples that participated in ceremonies need to know the status of their relationship," Lockyer said.

The San Francisco mayor sued the state last week on grounds that California's marriage laws violate the state constitution's equal-protection clause. Pressure on Lockyer to act intensified when Schwarzenegger directed him to "take immediate steps" to halt San Francisco's marriage march.

Supporters of the marriages have criticized Lockyer for rushing the issue to the state's highest court, while gay marriage opponents have criticized Lockyer for not acting sooner.

The California Supreme Court has a history of addressing marriage and gay rights cases. It was the first state high court in the nation to legalize interracial marriage 56 years ago. Twenty-five years ago, the court upheld gay rights by saying businesses could not arbitrarily discriminate against homosexuals.

Meanwhile, Republican activists who helped mount the recall of former Governor Gray Davis last year have announced plans to seek the removal of Lockyer, who they say has "neglected his duty" to enforce state marriage laws.

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