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California court denies bid to halt same-sex marriages in state

By Greg Botelho and Amanda Watts, CNN
July 24, 2013 -- Updated 1442 GMT (2242 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: A county clerk says he asked for a stay "because it's cruel to set up people"
  • NEW: Gay rights groups cheer the ruling, while adding the legal battle isn't necessarily over
  • California's Supreme Court declines to immediately halt same-sex marriages in state
  • The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for such marriages in a key ruling last month

(CNN) -- California's Supreme Court on Tuesday denied the San Diego County clerk's request to immediately halt same-sex marriages in the state, the latest, if not necessarily last, key ruling in a years-long legal fight.

The decision was announced in a brief ruling, which said: "The request for an immediate temporary stay or injunctive relief is denied."

Kamala Harris, California's attorney general, also tweeted the news. She is among the state officials who have supported same-sex marriage and opposed the implementation of Proposition 8, a referendum that limited marriages in the state to those between a man and a woman.

The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way last month for gay and lesbian couples to resume marrying in the state.

California resumes same-sex weddings

In a lengthy court document filed last Friday with California's Supreme Court, San Diego County Clerk Ernest Dronenburg asked the court to order Gov. Jerry Brown, Harris and other state officials to abide by an "immediate temporary stay" to once again halt same-sex marriages.

"Petitioner has been placed in an unsustainable position because, among other things, he has been threatened with legal action by the attorney general for exercising his public duties consistent with state law defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman," Dronenburg argued.

Earlier Tuesday -- before the state high court's decision came down -- same-sex marriage supporters gathered in San Diego to decry the efforts by Dronenburg and his supporters to continue their fight.

"Your religion, I respect it, I don't agree with it," LGBT rights activist Sean Sala said. "But my religion and your religion do not run this land. The Constitution of the United States runs this land."

At one point, Dronenburg himself came out to make his case, addressing reporters as his opponents stood around him. The clerk said he wanted California's Supreme Court to halt same-sex marriages because of what had happened once before: such weddings took place only to be later ruled to be against state law.

"I asked for a stay because it's cruel to set up people," the county clerk said.

The back-and-forth over same-sex marriage in California has been playing out in the courts and in political forums for years.

Fast Facts: Same-sex marriage

In May 2008, California's Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that the state's constitution gives "this basic civil right to (marry to) all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples."

The tide turned a few months later, when 52% of voters backed Proposition 8 to halt gay and lesbian marriages.

Yet state officials declined to stand behind the prohibition, even if private parties did. A federal appeals court subsequently ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, though it still issued a stay on same-sex marriages until the U.S. Supreme Court could weigh in.

That happened June 26, when the nation's high court -- in a 5-4 decision -- dismissed an appeal of the earlier lower court ruling on narrow, jurisdictional grounds.

High court lets same-sex marriages in California continue

Two days later, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals officially lifted the previous injunction and same-sex weddings took place very soon thereafter. Proposition 8 backers tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to again intervene, but Justice Anthony Kennedy refused to do so.

Since filing his petition, Dronenburg has become a champion for those who favor restricting marriage to heterosexuals. In a tweet several days ago, for instance, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer compared the county clerk to civil rights icon Rosa Parks for refusing "to violate CA constitution on wedding licenses."

Gay rights groups, like Marriage Equality USA, cheered Tuesday's decision denying Dronenburg's request.

Still, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News reported that the long, winding legal battle hasn't necessarily come to an end.

"It's not over!" tweeted that organization, which describes itself as "a proud member of the San Diego LGBT community." "California Supreme Court still has to has to hear petitions to halt same-gender marriage in August."

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