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The California Supreme Court on Thursday ordered an immediate halt to gay marriages in San Francisco, delivering a victory to conservatives who have fought for a month to block the ceremonies. The court did not rule on the legality of such marriages, and justices said they would hear such a case in May or June. The dispute began Feb. 12, when Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered his administration to issue same-sex marriage licenses. A steady stream of gay couples from around the country have traveled to be married at City Hall, just a block from the Supreme Court. More than 3,700 couples have tied the knot in San Francisco so far. The action by California’s highest court came two weeks after state Attorney General Bill Lockyer and a conservative group asked the seven justices to immediately block the gay marriages. The justices ruled unanimously that Newsom must “refrain from issuing marriage licenses or certificates not authorized” by California marriage laws. Had the court declined to intervene, the legal battle over gay marriage in California would have taken years as gay marriage lawsuits traveled through the state’s lower courts. Newsom’s defiance of California law prompted a host of other municipalities across the nation to follow suit, and President George W. Bush last month said he would back a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. The California court’s action came as Massachusetts lawmakers reconvened Thursday to consider a ban on gay marriage. They gave preliminary approval to a proposal that would ban gay marriage but allow civil unions. Massachusetts’ highest court ruled in November that it was unconstitutional to prevent gays from marrying — a ruling that sparked a legislative scramble to amend the state constitution. In statehouses nationwide, lawmakers are scrutinizing their constitutions to see if they could be construed to permit same-sex marriages, even in states where laws now bar them. Lockyer and the conservative Alliance Defense Fund said the court’s action was urgently needed because thousands of newly married gays might otherwise think they enjoy the same rights granted other married couples — such as the right to receive the other spouse’s property in the absence of a will. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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