First gay couples line up at county offices for marriage licenses

Local residents Rodger Thornberry, left, and Mike Dunn, were the first gay couple to apply for a marriage license in San Benito County during a four-month period when gay marriage was legal in California. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling has opened the

One same-sex couple applied for a marriage license within the first hour of business at the San Benito County Clerk, Auditor and Recorder’s Office on Monday morning after a stay was lifted late Friday afternoon that allowed counties to resume issuing licenses to gay couples.
“Based on the number of calls we had ahead of time, we were expecting a handful,” said Joe Paul Gonzalez, the county clerk-auditor-recorder. “One of the big questions was whether a registered domestic partnership should be handled in a different way. The (state) Department of Public Health issued a directive that they could be issued a license immediately so long as they had not gotten married in another jurisdiction.”
The U.S. Supreme Court justices, in a 5-4 vote, announced June 26 they had ruled that the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 had no standing to appeal the case. Therefore, the lower court order by Judge Vaughn Walker that ruled – denying gay marriage went against the state constitution – should stand. After the ruling Wednesday, some legal analysts speculated it could be 25 days before the Ninth Circuit court lifted the stay to give the losing party a chance to petition the higher court to rehear the decision.
State Attorney-General Kamala Harris and Gov. Jerry Brown both encouraged counties to begin issuing licenses as soon as the stay was lifted, urging the court to move quickly. Friday afternoon, court officials lifted the stay, and some of the first same-sex marriages took place in Los Angeles and San Francisco since the stay started on Nov. 4, 2008.
In San Francisco, City Hall remained open over the weekend to perform marriages. The San Francisco City Clerk’s Office reported on Sunday it had issued 563 marriages licenses since Friday and performed 435 weddings. On Monday morning at the Santa Clara County office, county staff prepared to begin presiding over express marriages with some gay couples in line right when the office opened at 8 a.m.
Gonzalez said his employees in San Benito County were prepared for anyone who might come in for a same-sex marriage license in the coming days or weeks.
“We were actually kind of doing research of what we would have to do differently in the office, and since the form had already been changed in 2007 (to be gender neutral) we didn’t’ really have to change the form,” he said Monday morning. “Really, all the infrastructure work had already been done since we issued licenses in 2008.”
Gonzalez said during the period when California had issued same-sex marriage licenses from June 16, 2008 through Nov. 4, 2008, the county had issued a number “within the dozens.”

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