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Page last updated at 04:15 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 05:15 UK

First California gay couples wed

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon leave San Fransisco City Hall (16 June 2008)
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were the first to marry in San Francisco City Hall

Dozens of homosexual couples have married in California shortly after the US state was permitted to grant them marriage licences for the first time.

Ceremonies were held in at least five counties after a supreme court ruling overturning a ban on same-sex marriages took effect at 1701 (0001 GMT).

One of the first couples to exchange vows was veteran gay-rights campaigner Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 83.

However, people will vote in November on a proposal to restore the ban.

California is the second state after Massachusetts to legalise same-sex marriages.

'Extraordinary and humbling gift'

San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who has been a prominent advocate of same-sex marriage, officiated at the wedding in City Hall of Ms Martin and Ms Lyon, who earlier received their licence.

It was Mr Newsom's 2004 decision to issue marriage licences to gay couples - including Ms Lyon and Ms Martin - which began the long drawn-out political and legal battle that led eventually to the California Supreme Court's ruling last month.

When we first got together we weren't really thinking about getting married
Phyllis Lyon

"We are very happy and we're very grateful," Ms Lyon said to a small crowd that cheered and threw rose petals at them after the ceremony.

"When we first got together we weren't really thinking about getting married."

Mr Newsom said officiating at the wedding had been an "extraordinary and humbling gift".

In Los Angeles, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the Supreme Court ruling, were married in a Jewish ceremony in front of Beverly Hills courthouse minutes after receiving their licence.

The ceremony was broadcast live on three news channels in the city.

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Robin Tyler and Diane Olson marry

About 20 protesters gathered nearby carrying banners with slogans that included: "Homo Sex is Sin!"

A vote in 2000 approved a law specifying that marriage in California could only be between a man and a woman. The 2004 marriage ceremonies were a direct challenge to this law, and were ruled illegal by judges.

But civil rights campaigners appealed against the ruling, and their arguments were accepted by the San Francisco Superior Court.

And although the lower court's ruling was overturned by the California Court of Appeal in 2006, this ruling was itself reversed last month by the state's Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, state legislators approved a law allowing same-sex marriages, but it was vetoed by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said that the courts should decide the issue.

'Tight election'

Opponents of same-sex unions have now gathered enough signatures to put another law outlawing gay marriage before California voters in November.

A protest truck against same-sex marriages circles around City Hall in San Francisco (16 June 2008)
Voters will be asked in a referendum whether the ban should be restored

But large numbers of gay couples - from across the US - are expected to get married in California before that time, partly in the hope that voters will be less inclined to vote for the law if it would mean splitting up married couples.

"It's going to be a very tight election come November," said Jeff Kors, executive director of the gay rights group Equality California.

"The more people see their friends and family get married, the more they will be comfortable with the idea."

Public opinion in California appears to be more favourable to gay marriage than was the case when the law banning it was passed in 2000.

A recent poll indicated that 52% of Californians supported same-sex marriages, with 41% opposed.




SEE ALSO
Gay wedding for Star Trek's Takei
20 May 08 |  Entertainment
NY to recognize same-sex marriage
29 May 08 |  Americas
California lifts gay marriage ban
15 May 08 |  Americas
Map: Gay marriage across the US
16 Aug 07 |  Americas
New Jersey begins gay 'weddings'
20 Feb 07 |  Americas
Schwarzenegger axes gay marriage
30 Sep 05 |  Americas

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