California will hold its first gay marriages starting June 17, state authorities told public officials Wednesday. The state's Supreme Court gave the green signal, quashing a ban on gay marriage in a historic ruling two weeks ago.
In the ceremony, the authorities said in a statement, the terms husband and wife will be replaced by "party A" and "party B." The union, in all its effects, will in no other way differ from a normal civilian marriage officiated by state authorities.
In an opinion that could have nationwide implications, the California Supreme Court on May 15 voted 4-3 in favor of plaintiffs who argued that restricting marriage to men and women was discriminatory.
The ruling added that all California couples had a "basic civil right" to marry "without regard to their sexual orientation."
California is now only the second US state after Massachusetts to legalize unions between homosexuals.
Supreme Court rulings go into effect 30 days after publication, but state authorities set June 17 as the date for the first marriages to be officiated, since the ruling can be appealed up to June 16.
The ruling on gay marriage followed a long-running legal battle that erupted in 2000 when California voters approved a law declaring that only marriages between men and women could be legally recognized.
In February 2004, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defied state law by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, arguing that existing laws were illegal because they violated equal rights legislation.
A court later halted the issuance of licenses and declared that same-sex marriages that took place during this period were void, but civil rights activists argued that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was unconstitutional.
In 2005 the San Francisco Superior Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, finding that there was no justification for refusing to allow marriages.
But the decision was overturned in 2006 by the California Court of Appeal, which ruled in a 2-1 decision that the state's desire to "carry out the expressed wishes of a majority" was sufficient to preserve the existing law.
California lawmakers have also voted in favor of gay marriage but the bill was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said, however, he would respect the Supreme Court's decision.
A coalition of religious and social conservative groups have vowed to add a vote calling for a ban on same-sex marriage when California goes to the polls in November's election.
State election officials will rule next month on whether sponsors of the vote have gathered enough signatures to force the issue onto the ballot. Schwarzenegger has said he would not support the measure.
Wednesday's ruling coincided with a Field opinion survey that found Californians in favor of gay marriage outnumbering those against by a 52-41 percent margin, in stark contrast with the 59-28 percent advantage gay marriage opposers had in the first survey the group took on the issue in 1977.