In Los Angeles, the head of the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center called Wednesday's decision a "historic victory" in what she described as a "long and challenging struggle."
"A grievous wrong has finally been righted," Lorri L. Jean said in a statement. "Justice has prevailed and the freedom to marry for California's same-sex couples has been restored."
But some gay marriage foes said they will fight on.“This is far from over, I can tell you,” said Chapman University law professor John Eastman, who supports the same-sex marriage ban.
Gov. Jerry Brown ordered all California counties to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once a lower court acts to implement Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling, which will open the path for such weddings to resume.
“After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California. In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the 9th Circuit confirms the stay is lifted," Brown said in a statement.
It could be weeks before weddings can resume across California. The Supreme Court's decision will be finalized in 25 days. After that, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would lift its stay on U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker's 2010 ruling finding that Proposition 8 -- which banned gay marriage in California -- was unconstitutional, most experts said.
The appellate court placed a stay on Walker's 2010 ruling until the federal court fight over Proposition 8 was complete.
Brown said an earlier opinion by California Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris concluded the California Department of Public Health “can and should” instruct county officials that they “must resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same-sex” couples.
Dean Logan, the Los Angeles County clerk, said once the lower court acts, couples can begin the marriage process online and bring the confirmation page and $90. More information can be found at the county's website.
San Francisco officials said its county clerk's office will offer marriage licenses on the first day the Supreme Court decision is effective.
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking for the 5-4 majority, said the private sponsors of Proposition 8 did not have legal standing to appeal after the ballot measure was struck down by a federal judge in San Francisco.
"We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to," he said. "We decline to do so for the first time here."
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan joined to form the majority.
The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.
Eastman said the supporters of Proposition 8 could challenge the scope of Walker’s order in federal district court or in state court under a provision of the California Constitution that prevents state officers from refusing to follow laws without an order from an appeals court.
But Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen, an expert on the state constitution, said the provision cited by Eastman does not apply to constitutional amendments such as Proposition 8.
“I think they would be laughed out of state court,” Uelmen said.