Thursday's ruling makes it the second state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Ruling 4 to3, the court found marriage to be a "fundamental constitutional right," and to deny that right to same-sex couples would require a compelling government interest. The Republican-dominated court said the state had failed to show such an interest.
Unlike in Massachusetts, nothing prevents out-of-state same-sex couples from coming to California to get married.
"The invitation is going to be a kind of come one, come all, and that's going to produce a large number of [gay] marriages," says Douglas Kmiec, law professor at Pepperdine University. "They will then return to their home communities and will insist the states recognize their marriages as valid."
The decision also sets up political confrontations at the ballot box in November, at the state level and possibly within the presidential contest.
After the Massachusetts ruling in 2003, ballot initiatives opposing gay marriage brought voters out to the polls, and according to some research, possibly tipped the 2004 election to President Bush. The new ruling is unlikely to have the same effect in 2008, when deep dissatisfaction with the economy and the war will make it hard for social issues like gay marriage to gain traction, say most experts.
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