California’s governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will veto a landmark bill that would have made the state the first in the US to authorise same-sex marriage with legislation.

Schwarzenegger announced on Wednesday, California time, that he would reject the bill, which had passed state parliament a day earlier, because it conflicted with a referendum in 2000 that opposed same-sex marriage.

The referendum led to the passage of Proposition 22, a law that amended state Family Code to state that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognised in California.

The issue is waiting to go before the California Supreme Court following a decision by a San Francisco court in March to strike down both Proposition 22 and the state’s opposite-sex definition of marriage.

Out of respect for the will of the people, the governor will veto [the same-sex marriage bill], Schwarzenegger’s press secretary, Margita Thompson, said in a statement on Wednesday.

We cannot have a system where the people vote and the legislature derails that vote.

The governor believes the matter should be determined not by legislative action  – which would be unconstitutional – but by court decision or another vote of the people of our state.

At present, the only US state where same-sex couples can marry is Massachusetts, where the state’s Supreme Court forced recognition of gay marriage last year

Gay activists condemned Schwarzenegger’s veto plans, claiming he had betrayed gay and lesbian voters.

He got elected with record numbers of lesbian and gay voters who had not previously voted for a Republican, and he sold us out, Geoff Kors, executive director of statewide lobby group Equality California and a sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill, said, according to Associated Press.

Schwarzenegger’s decision puts a dampener on the celebrations that followed the gay marriage bill’s narrow passage through California’s legislature on Tuesday evening, US time.

The legislation was passed by the California Assembly in a 41-35 vote, the minimum needed for passage. This followed the bill’s passage through the Senate last Thursday, where it was passed on a vote of 21-15.

One of the decisive votes in the Assembly came from Democrat member Tom Umberg of Anaheim, who abstained from voting on a similar bill in June when the Assembly rejected it 37-36.

This is one of those times when history looks upon us to see where we are, Umberg said.

Ten years from now there are a handful of issues that history will record where we stood. And this is one of those issues. History will record whether we pushed a bit, whether we took the lead to encourage tolerance, to encourage equality, to encourage fairness.

And the constituency I’m concerned about is a very small one, Umberg added.

That’s the constituency of my three children, should they decide to look back on my record and look back and reflect on where I … stood when I could make a difference. If I stood with those who sought to take a leadership roll in terms of tolerance, equity and fairness. And I’ll be proud to say I did.

The latest statewide poll found that 46 percent of Californians favour same-sex marriage and 46 percent oppose it.

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