As the issue moved into the high court, Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at UCLA's law school, which examines sexual orientation and the law, said the state's broad domestic partner law had undercut the traditional argument that children were better off being raised by opposite-sex parents.
"Taking those issues off the table, which the domestic partners act did, might have made this an easier case for everyone," Sears said. Once the state recognized the right of gays to rear children, the fight for same-sex marriage was shaped as "the right to have a family" and the ruling became "about family being protected."
The court concluded that giving gays a separate institution -- domestic partnership -- "marked gays and lesbians as second-class citizens," Sears said.
The Massachusetts high court ruling that permitted gays there to marry did not give sexual orientation the same kind of constitutional protection that Thursday's decision did, nor was the Massachusetts ruling as explicit in stating that marriage licenses must be given to same-sex couples in the immediate future, legal analysts said.
Sears said recent polls show that Californians are divided over same-sex marriage. Forty-three percent of Californians supported gay marriage in a Field Poll taken a year ago.
He added that the issue was likely to affect the political debate even outside California.
"It is going to give some new teeth to an issue that was losing its potency in terms of being a wedge issue," Sears said.
Times staff writers Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento, Rong-Gong Lin II, Jean-Paul Renaud, Francisco Vara-Orta, Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Los Angeles and John M. Glionna and Lee Romney in San Francisco contributed to this report.