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San Jose Mercury News, Calif.
The wait is over for everyone from wedding planners to local clerks — and thousands of gay and lesbian couples across California.
The California Supreme Court on Wednesday removed any lingering legal doubts about whether same-sex couples can marry in California beginning June 17, setting the stage for a rush of gay nuptials that morning.
Kristin and Jean Rivers, who’d planned to marry at a San Jose church June 18, have been wondering for weeks whether the court would spoil their big day.
“I’ve been riding a roller coaster,” said Kristin Rivers, a schoolteacher. “Two weeks before I’m supposed to get married, I find out I can get married. On one hand, I’m totally relieved. On the other hand, I’m kind of freaking out.”
In Santa Clara County, officials expect that Tuesday to be like Valentine’s Day, when there are typically double or triple the number of weddings than the average day.
David and Rich Speakman of Mountain View will be the first in line at 8:30 a.m. Supervisor Ken Yeager, himself a gay man who was just this week deputized to conduct marriages, will officiate.
“It’s not really a political statement at all, we just want it over with,” said David Speakman, 40. However, he is learning that wedding ceremonies often come with trappings. “My partner is turning into kind of a mini-groomzilla. He wants to have people over.”
A November ballot initiative that could restore a state ban on gay marriage could still threaten the marriages
of same-sex couples such as the Speakmans and invite more legal challenges. But for now, the wedding invitations can go out — in ink.
San Francisco’s plans Expecting huge demand in San Francisco, that city is planning extended hours during the first week to accommodate the hundreds, if not more, of couples expected to travel to the city from near and far to obtain licenses. The new state-issued marriage licenses will list “Party A” and “Party B” instead of the old “bride” and “groom.”
The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused a request from gay-marriage opponents to put its historic May ruling legalizing gay marriage on hold until after the November election. The justices voted 4-3 to deny the request to reconsider the case, splitting along the same lines as last month’s ruling finding the state’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. That ruling now becomes final June 16.
Conservative groups, as well as 11 states that ban gay marriage, had urged the justices to freeze the ruling until after voters consider the ballot measure, which would amend the state constitution to restrict marriage to a man and a woman. Backers of the measure argued that it would create legal confusion if gay couples marry in the coming months and voters then outlaw same-sex marriage.
Without comment, the Supreme Court turned away the argument in a brief order.
Backers of the ballot measure called the order a “4-3 vote for legal chaos” and vowed to use it as ammunition in the campaign.
“This will only make Californians more angry and more determined,” said Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families.
With the legal obstacles removed for now, thousands of gay couples are expected to marry, as there are more than 40,000 same-sex couples registered as domestic partners in California. A Field Poll released last week found a majority of likely California voters for the first time favor same-sex marriage.
Legal battle But the courts may not be done with the gay-marriage issue if voters approve the ballot measure and again limit marriage to heterosexual couples. Civil rights lawyers have already promised to challenge the ballot measure in court if it passes, while gay-marriage foes insist the licenses issued in the coming months would be “invalid and invisible” if voters outlaw gay marriage.
The ballot measure does not say the constitutional amendment would be retroactive, making it an open question as to whether it would apply to existing gay marriages.
While legal experts say couples would be in uncharted territory if they marry and the state restores a gay-marriage ban, there is general agreement that courts are reluctant to take away legal rights that were already in place.
“Courts would find it very difficult to deny the validity of these public acts,” said Douglas Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University. “These are existing constitutional rights that must be observed now.”
Gay-marriage supporters say couples should go forward with marriages without worry.
“I feel fairly confident advising people to go ahead and get married, with the understanding it’s not absolutely certain,” said Joan Hollinger, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law.
Still, many gay couples are not rushing into things.
“People this time around are taking a more measured approach and aren’t in such a hurry,” compared with the rush to San Francisco in 2004, said Rev. Mike Ellard, gay ministry co-chair of the Council of Churches Santa Clara County. “They are tired of being on a yo-yo and don’t want to get married only to have it taken away again.” Others, he said, have told him they will take their time to plan meaningful ceremonies to which they can invite friends and families.
“I’m not getting a lot of ‘I want to elope to San Jose’ calls,” Ellard said.
Copyright (c) 2008, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

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