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May 30, 2008

California weddings may begin in two weeks

San Francisco--While anti-gays muster their forces, the state of California is preparing for same-sex marriages to begin on June 14.

The president of the state’s county clerks association, Stephen Weir, was told by the Office of Vital Records that clerks could begin issuing marriage licenses on June 14, thirty days after the California Supreme Court’s ruling that barring same-sex couples from full marriage is unconstitutional.

That day a Saturday, and county clerks would have the choice of opening on the weekend or waiting until Monday, June 16 to begin issuing licenses.

But the licenses might not be issued at all if anti-gay groups are successful in their motion to have the California Supreme Court stay its decision.

On May 22, the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a petition asking the court to delay the effect of the decision until after the November election, when it is likely that voters will consider a constitutional amendment that would overturn the ruling.

Signatures have already been submitted to state officials to force the vote, and they are currently checking the petitions. If enough valid signatures are certified, the amendment goes on the ballot in the general election.

‘Scare words’

The Alliance Defense Fund, an anti-gay Arizona legal orgnaizantion, argued in a brief for the Prop. 22 group that if marriages are allowed to go through and then voters approve the amendment, it will cause “legal havoc” and “uncertainty of immeasurable magnitude.”

New York University law professor Art Leonard calls those terms “scare words,” and notes that the Alliance might actually anger the court by putting the word marriage in quotation marks whenever they are referring to same-sex marriages, “as if, despite the court’s opinion, ADF is not ready to acknowledge that these will be real marriages.”

“This recalls to mind the scolding that Justice William Brennan gave to counsel for Price Waterhouse in the Supreme Court case of Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins,” he continues. “Counsel’s brief put scare quotes around the term sexual stereotyping, a point of major contention in the case, as if to cast doubt on the very idea that something like sexual stereotyping could exist.”

“Brennan was perturbed by that usage, and made his perturbation clear,” Leonard concludes.

Leonard notes that Alliance did make some valid points, including that similar rulings in Massachusetts and Vermont did not have as short a span between ruling and remedy. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court gave the legislature 180 days to respond to the ruling before it took effect, compared to 30 for the California ruling.

The American Center for Law and Justice, an anti-gay legal group in Washington, D.C., argues that if the California ruling takes effect, it will bring a wave of lawsuits in states across the country from couples who marry in California and then return to their home state.

Unlike Massachusetts, California has no residency requirement for marriage, so couples could travel to the state, get married and then return home.

The ACLJ points to the full faith and credit clause of the United States Constitution, which requires states to honor legal agreements and rulings from other states.

But, analyst Christine Nelson of the National Conference of State Legislatures points out, “While the California ruling is very significant, a lot of states have already taken action on this.”

Los Angeles Times staff writer David G. Savage notes that the ruling “is not likely to have a ripple effect,” as the number of states with laws or constitutional amendments barring recognition of same-sex marriage has grown since 2004, when the Massachusetts ruling made that state the first to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Polls tip both ways

Just over half of California voters backed the marriage ban amendment in a poll last week, but a similar number opposed it in another poll this week.

The Los Angeles Times and KTLA-TV released their poll of 834 Californians,on May 23, 705 of them registered voters, and found that 54 percent backed the proposed constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage.

The poll’s director, Susan Pinkus, said that the initiative’s lead could evaporate between now and November as voters digest the ruling and the opposing sides try to win popular support.

“Although the amendment to reinstate the ban on same-sex marriage is winning by a small majority, this may not bode well for the measure,” she said.

The results mean that, with a 3 percent margin of error overall and 4 percent for registered voters, the two sides could be on equal footing. It also noted registered voters, not likely voters.

The poll also showed a major generation gap, with older people more likely to support the amendment.

As if supporting Pinkus’ caveat, the non-partisan California Field Poll released on May 27 indicated that 51 percent of Californians support same-sex marriage and oppose the ban amendment, compared to 42 percent opposing marriage and 43 percent supporting the proposed amendment.

The Field Poll used a pool of 1,052 voters, and asked questions worded in a variety of ways over a ten-day period. Opposition to the amendment varied from 51 percent to 54 percent depending on the phrasing.

Support for marriage equality is strongest in Northern California, the San Francisco area and Los Angeles County, and more people near the coast support marriage equality than those in inland counties.

If the petition to the California Supreme Court to delay the ruling’s effects is rejected, voters would also witness five months of same-sex couples being happily wed on the news and in the streets, which might increase opposition to the amendment.


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