SAN FRANCISCO — Thousands celebrated in the streets of San Francisco Wednesday night after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for gay marriages to resume in California following a bitter, five-year legal battle. But the nation's most populous state might have to wait at least 25 days before joining the 12 other states where gay couples already have the right to wed.
Sidestepping the larger question of whether banning gay marriage is unconstitutional, the high court justices held 5-4 that the coalition of religious conservative groups that qualified California's voter-approved ban for the ballot did not have the authority to defend it after state officials refused to do so.
As a result, the justices let stand a San Francisco trial court's ruling in August 2010 that overturned the ban. Other states were left to keep hashing out whether gay marriage should be legal within their borders.
In both San Francisco and the Los Angeles area, positive but subdued early responses turned into big celebrations as night came and gay marriage advocates came to grasp the meaning of the decisions.
As the sun set on San Francisco, a crowd surged from hundreds to thousands in the city's Castro neighborhood, with rainbow flags and confetti filling the air.