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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 February, 2004, 01:51 GMT
California gay weddings can go on
Wedding couple in New Paltz, NY
Gay weddings have come to a small New York town
California's Supreme Court has refused a request from the state's attorney general to halt gay weddings.

More than 3,400 same-sex couples have married, since San Francisco's mayor began issuing licences two weeks ago.

The court told conservative groups who oppose the weddings, which contravene state law, to file new legal briefs in one week's time.

On Friday, 21 gay and lesbian couples exchanged vows at a village hall in New Paltz, New York.

The Mayor of New Paltz, 26-year-old Jason West, said he decided to perform same sex wedding ceremonies as a matter of equal rights.

The same argument has been against by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, whose spokesman says he is only following "the state constitution, which explicitly outlaws discrimination of any kind".

But after Mayor West started holding ceremonies, the Governor of New York State, George Pataki, said it was in clear breach of state law which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom stands between newlyweds
Mayor Newsom says he is just following the state constitution
"What we're witnessing in America today is the flowering of the largest civil rights movement the country's had in a generation," countered Mr West, a member of the Green Party.

The issue has prompted George W Bush to call for a constitutional amendment defining marriage in traditional terms.

"Marriage between a man and a woman is the ideal, President Bush said on Friday.

"And the job of the president is to drive policy toward the ideal."

Legal ruling

California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer had asked the state Supreme Court to halt any further gay marriages, and annul the licences already issued since the weddings began on 12 February.

Gay couple in San Francisco
More than 3,000 gay couples have wed in San Francisco
"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," he said.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had pressed Mr Lockyer to seek the clarification.

"I believe strongly in the law that we have right now in California, which respects domestic partnership and I think that's a very good law," said the governor, earlier in the week.

But the judges refused to take action, and told opponents' of gay weddings to file briefs to the court at the end of next week.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"More than 3000 same sex weddings in the United States over the past few weeks"

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