State sets start date for same-sex marriages

Same-sex couples can start marrying June 17 after state officials distributed sample marriage license forms Wednesday that replace the terms “Bride” and “Groom” with “Party A” and “Party B.”

The California Supreme Court ruled May 15 that a state law defining marriage as only between a man and a woman violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples.

The decision by the justices ended a courtroom battle that began when Mayor Gavin Newsom gave the green light in February 2004 for the county clerk to issue marriage licenses to thousands of same-sex couples. Months later, the state’s high court nullified the marriages.

It was initially thought by city officials that couples could wed as early as June 16, but the justices have until the end of that day to rule on a petition filed by opponents of gay marriage. The opponentsask that the ruling not take effect until after the November election, when voters will consider a proposed state constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. If passed, it would trump the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

A delay also could occur if the state high court takes its option to extend the effective date by up to 60 days, according to Supreme Court spokeswoman Lynn Holton.

In San Francisco, more than 600 couples already have registered for licenses. Marriage ceremonies at City Hall are booked solid from June 16 to July 7, according to the County Clerk’s Office. The 44 same-sex couples with June 16 appointments for marriage licenses will be asked to reschedule their appointments, according to the County Clerk’s Office.

Statewide, thousands of gay and lesbian couples are expected to tie the knot, according to the California Department of Public Health.

“Assuming no legal developments to the contrary, the Department of Public Health will recognize the court’s decision as being in effect beginning June 17, 2008,” the state department said in a memo Wednesday sent to county clerks.

San Francisco officials say they are optimistic that gay weddings will soon begin to move down the aisle.

City Hall is planning for a “historic day” June 17, Newsom spokeswoman Giselle Barry said.

“We anticipate a City Hall full of families and couples no longer waiting for, but celebrating, their newly won rights,” she said.

Further delay of decision would be ‘inhumane,’ city attorney says

Same-sex marriages should not be delayed to see if a constitutional amendment in support of opposite-sex marriages only is passed by voters in November, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a legal brief filed Wednesday.

Last week, supporters of the state’s current laws banning gay marriage filed a petition with the California Supreme Court to postpone a ruling by the state’s high court that said withholding marriage violates the rights of gay couples.

In April, more than 1.1 million signatures were filed for a ballot measure that would make the provisions of the ban a constitutional amendment. The secretary of state is still determining whether there are enough valid signatures with a decision expected June 18, according to the office.

“To deny this fundamental constitutional right to same-sex couples based on speculation about what might happen in November would not merely be inappropriate, it would be inhumane,” Herrera argued in Wednesday’s legal filing.

dsmith@sfexaminer.com

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