SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The California Supreme Court unanimously agreed Wednesday to decide whether the state's ban on same-sex 'marriage' violates a constitutional ban on discrimination, though an outcome is not likely until late next year.
The justices are reviewing an October decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal, which ruled that California marriage laws do not discriminate because gay and lesbian couples can get most rights the state confers to married couples.
Massachusetts is the only state that authorizes same-sex marriage. California offers domestic partnerships, similar to civil unions in Vermont and Connecticut.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed gay and lesbian couples to wed at City Hall in 2004, but California's justices halted the ensuing wedding spree and voided 4,037 marriage licenses by ruling the mayor did not have authority to make marriage law.
About 20 same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco sued the state, and the case has meandered through trial and appellate courts. Had the Supreme Court not taken the case, the lower court's decision would have stood.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said the city was "extremely gratified."
"It's perhaps the major civil rights issue of our time," he said.
A call to the office of Attorney General Bill Lockyer was not returned.
A 1977 law and a 2000 voter-approved measure prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying in California.
Meanwhile, in Alaska, Gov. Sarah Palin said Wednesday that officials will abide by a state Supreme Court decision to provide benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees as of Jan. 1.
The court on Tuesday had told the state to stop dragging its feet and implement benefits, which will end a seven-year battle by the American Civil Liberties Union and nine couples who sued.
"We believe we have no more judicial options," Palin said, shortly before the Republican signed a bill calling for voters to decide in April whether the Legislature should consider proposing a constitutional amendment to prohibit the benefits.
The high court ruled in October 2005 that denying the benefits violated the state's guarantee of equal protection for all Alaskans.
The state constitution prohibits marriage for same-sex couples.
Associated Press writer Steve Quinn in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.
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