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California court divided over same-sex marriage
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The California Supreme Court appeared divided on Tuesday in a heated debate over constitutionality of the state's ban on same-sex marriage, according to media report Wednesday.

The hearing brought into focus the highest-profile US fight over gay rights in recent years and the outcome could influence legislation and lawsuits in other states.

Lawyers for the same-sex couples seeking the right to marry said that marriage was a unique expression of love and commitment and that calling their unions anything else was a form of second-class citizenship.

Lawyers for groups opposed to same-sex marriage agreed that marriage was a fundamental bond with ancient roots, but they drew the opposite conclusion, saying that allowing same-sex couples to marry would undermine the institution of marriage itself.

The state ban on same-sex marriage is based on a law enacted by the Legislature in 1977 and a statewide initiative approved by the voters in 2000 that defined marriage as being only between a man and a woman. But domestic partnership legislation as of 2005 gave registered gay couples many of the same privileges enjoyed by married couples.

The question before the court is whether those laws violate provisions of the state constitution protecting equality and fundamental rights.

Massachusetts is the only state that allows same-sex marriage, based on a ruling of its highest court interpreting the state's constitution.

The high courts of other states, including New York, New Jersey and Washington, have said there is no right to same-sex marriage under their constitutions.

Under its rules, the court here must issue its decision in 90 days.

Should it decide that the state constitution allows same-sex marriage, its ruling would almost certainly become an issue in the presidential election, according to New York Times report.

(Xinhua News Agency March 5, 2008)

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