Gay groups have welcomed a decision by the California Supreme Court to decide whether excluding same-sex couples from marriage is a violation of the state’s constitution.

The court announced yesterday that it will review an October decision by a lower court in the state which stated that banning gay marriage was not discriminatory.

Plaintiffs in the case, including Equality California (EQCA), and Lambda Legal appealed the court’s decision in November.

EQCA Executive Director Geoff Kors: said: “This is an important day for same-sex couples who are excluded from marriage under existing California law.

“Same-sex couples deserve the recognition and protection that comes only with marriage. With California’s commitment to treating all people equally regardless of their sexual orientation, we are hopeful the California Supreme Court will rule that discriminatory marriage laws are unconstitutional. The time has come to end the barrier to marriage for same-sex couples.”

Jon Davidson is Legal Director at Lambda Legal and one of the attorneys on the case. He said: “So far in California, two judges have held that California’s Constitution protects same-sex couples and requires that they be free to marry and two have ruled that it doesn’t.

“The Supreme Court unanimously has agreed to hear our arguments, and we’re hopeful they’ll decide that same-sex couples have the same rights – including the right to marry – that different-sex couples enjoy.

“The people who represent Californians in the state Legislature have already passed a bill that would remove all doubt that same-sex couples are free to marry in the Golden State, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed it. So long as California’s statues deny same-sex couples and their children equality, it’s up to the California Supreme Court to decide the issue once and for all.”

In a 2-to-1 decision last October, a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals overturned a 2005 ruling by a lower court judge in San Francisco that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional.

This summer, courts in New York and Washington state also refused to strike down laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.

In October, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that same-sex couples have the right to all the legal rights and obligations that different-sex couples enjoy through marriage. The New Jersey Legislature passed a civil union bill last week.