California's legislature became the first in the nation to pass a bill to allow gay marriage, defining the institution as gender-neutral Tuesday night. Conservatives said the bill was detrimental to families and urged the governor to veto it.
Supporters cheered as bill AB 849 squeaked by the California State Assembly with the minimum number of votes required, 41-35 with four abstentions.
The next step in the process requires Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign the bill to make it law. Should the governor sign, the new law would go into effect by next January. However, a lawsuit could put the bill on hold until the courts decide.
The battle over same-sex marriage in the state and throughout the nation is being waged on several fronts. In California, Christian groups have endorsed two initiatives that may make their way into ballots in 2006 calling for a state constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being only between one man and one woman.
Randy Thomasson, the president of Campaign for Children and Families who is leading one of the amendment initiatives, said that the governor "can't afford to sign the gay marriage license bill," according to the Associated Press.
"He'll actually become a hero to the majority of Californians when he vetoes it," Thomasson added.
Objectors to the gender-neutral bill indicated that Tuesday night's decision went against the will of California's voters, who five years ago voted to pass a statewide initiative that would not recognize same-sex marriages from out of state. Currently only Massachusetts has legalized gay marriages, however the decision came about by a court ruling, not the state legislature.
"This is a sad day for California families because the very foundation of the family is being redefined and destroyed," said Karen England of conservative pro-family group Capitol Resource Institute in a released statement.
"The legislature, by callously disregarding their constituents, are proving that they are more concerned about embracing a group of adults, identified only by their sexual behavior, than promoting healthy families for the sake of our children," she added.
In contrast, the sponsor and co-author of the bill, Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), said the decision was important for civil rights and families.
"It was a thing of beauty on the floor. To see so many colleagues standing up and speaking about the importance of civil rights and dignity and respect for all our citizens of our families, all of our children," Leno told the San Jose Mercury News.
Assemblyman Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine), who voted against the bill, said that marriage could not be redefined.
"The definition of marriage is well defined in Western society ... it's one man and one woman," he told Knight Ridder Newspapers.
"No matter how much we want to vote on it here in this body, that will never change."
The bill had recently been passed by the state Senate, also a first for homosexual marriage in the nation. Earlier in the year, the same bill had been voted down by the senate but made a comeback when it was reintroduced to the by Leno.