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The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal over same-sex marriage on jurisdictional grounds, ruling Wednesday that private parties do not have "standing" to defend California's voter-approved ballot measure (known as Proposition 8) barring gay and lesbian couples from state-sanctioned wedlock.
The ruling clears the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.
"This is not about a legal brief. This was not about some abstract. This was about human beings, human dignity. It was the narrative and the story of their lives and their denials, but also their perseverance and their triumph that we're all celebrating here today," California's Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told CNN.
California Gov. Jerry Brown immediately issued a statement saying he has directed the state's Department of Public Health to tell counties they need to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the 9th Circuit confirms the stay has been lifted. Newsom said the state courts could lift the stay at any time, but that it will take some time before California begins issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
"The bandwidth of expectation is 25 to 30 days, assuming that the normal course takes shape and the expectation that perhaps there may be some subsequent litigation for those who are not pleased with the Supreme Court's decision today," said Newsom.
The worst case scenario would be licenses will be issued by the end of July, said Newsom.
Wednesday's rulings by the court are big victories for those who support same-sex marriage, but they were not the complete victory that many wanted. The Supreme Court did not say that every state has to recognize same-sex marriage.
"This wasn't a "Loving v. Virginia" decision. Remember, in 1967, blacks could not marry whites in 16 states in this country. That Supreme Court decision ruled that all of those states' laws were unconstitutional," said Newsom. "This is obviously a decision on the Prop 8 that is limited to California, but not insignificant by the very nature and scope and size of this state."
Newsom has been fighting for gay marriage rights for more than a decade. In 2004, Newsom, then mayor of San Francisco, unleashed a political and legal tempest when he ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"A lot of extraordinary things have happened to date, but an enormous amount of work is ahead of us for those three dozen or so states that still are denied the same privileges or, I would argue, rights of full equality here in California," said Newsom.
Newsom said after the decision came down, he had "the great privilege of a lifetime," which was walking down the steps at the rotunda at San Francisco City Hall with Phyllis Lyon, one of the heroes of the gay marriage movement.
"It was Phyllis Lyon and her partner, now deceased wife, 'Del' Martin, that are real legends, in the rights movement," said Newsom, who recalled meeting them in 2004. They were the first couple to legally get married in California after the state's Supreme Court adjudicated in favor of marriage equality.
"They had been together, at the time, almost 55 years. Talk about the definition of faith and love and devotion that constitute what marriage should be all about," said Newsom.
Lyon and Martin, along with the 4,037 couples married in California, "put a human face on the issue of equality," said Newsom.