Citing the 60-year-old landmark case Perez v. Sharp, which struck down California's ban on interracial marriage, the California Supreme Court ruled today that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional. The Court's decision nullified Proposition 22, the statewide referendum outlawing gay marriage passed by California voters in 2000.

From the court's ruling:

Furthermore, in contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual's capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual's sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual's sexual orientation — like a person's race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights. We therefore conclude that in view of the substance and significance of the fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship, the California Constitution properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as to opposite-sex couples.

The ruling was the culmination of a lawsuit, Tyler v. Los Angeles County, that began in Los Angeles in 2004, when two couples, Robin Tyler and her partner Diane Olson and Troy Perry and his partner Phillip De Bliek, sued L.A. County for the right to marry.

The couples and their struggle were featured in the Weekly last February.

“My grandfather would be proud of me today,” says Olson, of her grandfather Culbert Levy Olsen, California's first Democratic governor. “He would have approved of my being able to marry the person I have lived with and loved for over 14 years.”

The decision not only paves the way for same-sex couples to marry in California, it will allow the state to legally recognize same-sex marriages from other states and countries.

“We thank God that our marriage in Canada has been recognized,” says Perry, who was married to De Bliek in Toronto in 2003. “This is a battle our church, the Metropolitan Community Churches, which I founded, has fought since 1969.”

But, as GLBT activist Lorri Jean, Executive Director of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, noted today at a Hollywood press conference, the right for gays to marry is still not guaranteed in California. Despite the magnitude of today's ruling, the Supreme Court's decision could be overturned if a proposed ballot initiative that would amend the California Constitution to prohibit gay marriage is ratified by voters in November.

“Tonight we celebrate, but tomorrow the battle begins,” she said.

Mayor Villaraigosa, also speaking at the press conference, vowed to “do everything in my power to keep the court's decision the law of the land.”

“And,” he added, “I intend to marry as many gay and lesbian couples as I possibly can.”

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