In California, gay and lesbian couples are preparing to exchange wedding vows just one month after the highest court handed down a historic ruling on same-sex marriages.
The first marriage licenses are to be issued in a handful of districts from 5 pm (0000 GMT) on Monday, before an expected state-wide stampede by thousands of couples gets underway the following day.
AdvertisementThe legalization of same-sex marriage in California is expected to create a mini-industry worth several hundred million dollars, as couples flock to California from across the United States to tie the knot.
Among the first couples to get hitched on Monday will be Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, who were the first plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the California Supreme Court overturning the ban last month.
Tyler and Olson, who have been together for 15 years, will swap vows on the steps of the Beverly Hills County Courthouse at 5:01 pm in a ceremony attended by dignitaries including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Analysts say same-sex marriages will generate several hundred million dollars and create thousands of jobs for California's economy.
A recent University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study said around 51,000 of the 102,000 same-sex couples living in California are expected to marry over the next three years, with a further 67,500 couples from outside the state expected to wed here during the same period.
"Spending by resident same-sex couples on their weddings and by out-of-state couples ... will boost California's economy by over 683.6 million dollars in direct spending over the next three years," the UCLA study reported.
Last month's landmark court ruling came after 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.
However, San Francisco and civil rights activists waged a legal case arguing that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was unconstitutional and that the law should be struck down.
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 has said that the matter is for the state's court system to decide on.
However, opponents are seeking to force the issue back onto the agenda and have gathered enough signatures for a proposal calling for California to ban same-sex marriage to be added to ballot papers at November 4 elections.
The initiative comes as public opinion in the state appears more and more open to same-sex marriages. The Field Institute published a study May 28 showing 52 percent of Californians supported homosexual marriage compared to 41 percent who opposed it.
Both of the presumptive candidates in the November presidential election, Democrat hopeful Barack Obama and Republican Senator John McCain, are opposed to same-sex marriages but are against a constitutional ban on the issue.
However, David Cruz, a professor at the University of Southern California and an expert in constitutional law, said Obama's popularity amongst younger voters could have implications for the California amendment vote.
"If there is a high turnout of young voters in November, that is likely to favor supporters of same-sex marriage," Cruz told AFP. "Polls have consistently shown that younger voters are not opposed to it."
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