On November 18, 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that the state could not deny civil marriage to two members of the same sex who wished to marry. The court stayed its ruling for 180 days, so that the state legislature could address the issue. The legislature moved quickly to prohibit same-sex marriages, but voted to allow “civil unions,” a category that was intended to be separate but legally equivalent to marriage. In February 2004, the Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion that concluded the proposed legislation was unconstitutional. This opinion paved the way for city and town clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning in May 2004. Massachusetts is currently the only state in the U.S. where same-sex couples may legally marry.
At the same time the marriage debate raged in Massachusetts, the issue was heating up in San Francisco as well. In February 2004, the county clerk, acting on orders of San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Couples from all around the U.S. flocked to the city to get married. Issuance of licenses was halted when the California Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on March 11, 2004. By that time, however, more than four thousand same-sex marriages had been performed.
In early September 2005, the California legislature approved a bill to permit homosexual marriage. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill on September 29, 2005.