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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris. Today, the California Supreme Court overturned a ban on same-sex marriage.

Mayor GAVIN NEWSOME (San Francisco, California): It's about human dignity. It's about civil rights. It's about time in California.

NORRIS: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome was jubilant, more than four years after he ordered local city officials to marry gay couples in City Hall. At that point, Newsome said he believed the ban on same-sex marriage violated California's constitution. Today, the state supreme court agreed with him. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Sarah Varney joins me now. Welcome, Sarah.

SARAH VARNEY: Thank you.

NORRIS: Tell me more about the court's ruling.

VARNEY: This was the result of 4,000 couples that married at San Francisco's City Hall back in February in 2004. The Supreme Court stepped in shortly after and ordered the city to stop marrying gay and lesbian couples, and then a while later, they actually invalidated those marriage licenses, ruling that the mayor had no authority to challenge the California constitution. So, as a result of that, the city as well about two dozen couples filed a lawsuit against the state, challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

NORRIS: And what was the ruling based on?

VARNEY: The ruling was based on - the court found that gay couples have a fundamental right to marry the person of their own choice. And their language harkened back to a 1948 state decision that was - that overturned a ban on interracial marriage in California. So it said that - it also said that the state really can't justify having separate institutions for gay couples and for heterosexual couples because the state has a long tradition of recognizing gay rights. Gay couples in California can foster - can adopt, and they can have foster children. They can have - they have shared property rights. And so the court said it no longer makes sense now to deny this institution to those couples. To do so would be to continue them - would be to grant them a second-class status.

NORRIS: Sarah Varney, there was a lot of anticipation about the Supreme Court ruling. Did the decision come as a surprise?

VARNEY: I think everybody really had no idea which way the court was going to go. I mean, from oral arguments, it was very clear it was going to be a tight decision. I think we had all predicted it would be 4-3, we just weren't sure which way it was going to go. In this case, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court, Ron George, who was appointed by a Republican, authored the majority decision. And I think - wasn't it clear which way it was going to go? But again, the court does have this long history of recognizing gay rights, gay civil rights. And so, many people were saying the court really had no choice but to go this route.

NORRIS: So what happens now?

VARNEY: So from what we can understand from the court, the court has - the decision will take effect in about 30 days, and so gay couples in California can get married at their city hall if they'd like in 30 days.

NORRIS: Thank you, Sarah.

VARNEY: Thank you.

NORRIS: Sarah Varney is with member station KQED in San Francisco. At our Web site, you can read an overview of laws on gay marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships across the US. You can also learn about pending court battles. That's all at npr.org.

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