Seeking an answer to a deeply divisive question, California's attorney general plans to ask the state Supreme Court on Friday whether San Francisco's approval of same-sex marriages violates state law.
Monday's announcement by Attorney General Bill Lockyer came after San Francisco filed a constitutional challenge to California's prohibitions on same-sex marriages.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger got a standing ovation last Friday at the Republican state convention when he ordered the attorney general to "take immediate steps" to get a court ruling to make the city stop the gay weddings.
Lockyer, a leading Democrat and potential rival to Schwarzenegger in the 2006 election, agreed immediate action was necessary because of the statewide concern over the issue.
"The people of California who have enacted laws that recognize marriage only between a man and a woman, and the same-sex couples who were provided marriage licenses in San Francisco deserve a speedy resolution to the question of the legality of these licenses," Lockyer said.
Lockyer at the same time took pains to put a little distance between his own position and that already taken by Schwarzenegger.
"The attorney general is independently elected. My client is 35 million Californians, not just the Terminator," said Lockyer.
More than 3,000 same-sex couples have been married since San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to give out the licenses Feb. 12.
"The process has gone extraordinarily well," Newsom said Monday, as weddings continued at City Hall, "when you consider that literally thousands and thousands of people are coming, converging on city hall from around the world."
Conservative groups have moved forward with lawsuits against the city, but two judges declined to immediately halt the wedding spree. The next hearing in those cases isn't scheduled until late March.
The Campaign for California Families has argued that the weddings harmed the 61 percent of California voters who in 2000 supported Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that said the state would only recognize marriage between a man and a woman as valid.
Newsom, a Democrat, maintains that he is following the state constitution.
"Mayor Newsom is upholding the state constitution, which explicitly outlaws discrimination of any kind," spokesman Peter Ragone said. "We believe the city's actions are both lawful and a recognition of the love that many couples share."
"The bottom line," argued Ragone, "is the legal process is working and those who would suggest otherwise do so only for political gain. We believe we are upholding the constitution. Others may disagree. We look forward to the court's ruling."
On Sunday, Schwarzenegger said he was worried about the potential for violence because of the controversial marriages.
"All of a sudden we see riots and we see protests and we see people clashing. The next thing we know is there's injured or there's dead people," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"In San Francisco, it is license for marriage of same sex. Maybe the next thing is another city that hands out licenses for assault weapons and someone else hands out licenses for selling drugs, I mean you can't do that," Schwarzenegger said.
"We have to stay within the law," he said. "There's a state law that says specific things, and if you want to challenge those laws then you can go to the court."
Ragone disputed the governor's characterization of the scene at City Hall, where the weddings have been held.
"Our experience is that it's been nothing but peaceful and loving," he said. "In San Francisco, there's been nothing but love and a commitment to ending discrimination."
Even though Lockyer said Schwarzenegger doesn't have the authority to order him to act, he followed the governor's wishes anyway. He said there is no deadline for the Supreme Court to decide whether to accept the case or make a ruling.
Also Monday, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of two homosexual couples seeking to wed who were denied marriage licenses in Beverly Hills. The couples hope to challenge the state's ban on same-sex marriages.
Attorney Gloria Allred, who filed the suit in Los Angeles Superior Court, also helped the couples attempt to get their licenses.
The Rev. Troy Perry, a member of the Los Angeles Human Rights Commission, and his partner Phillip DeBliek were legally married in Canada last year.
The two sought a marriage license at the Beverly Hills City Hall on February 12, and were instead given a one-page flier detailing the state's stance barring gay marriage.
"In most ways, Philip and I are like any other couple in this state," Perry said Monday. "We work our jobs, we pay our taxes. We have demonstrated our commitment and our love for each other over almost two decades. Yet, the current laws of the state of California treat my same-sex partner and me as second-class citizens."