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Court to decide if gays can legally wed in San Francisco

Court to decide if gays can legally wed in San Francisco

Their wedding march on San Francisco's City Hall produced marriage licenses in the hundreds, but gay and lesbian couples who took part may not even finish opening gifts before their nuptials are null and void. Opponents of Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision to defy state law and have marriage licenses issued to gay and lesbian couples were to have their day in court Tuesday, with hearings scheduled on the petitions of two groups. By Monday night, 2,340 same-sex couples had taken their vows at City Hall since the county clerk, under Newsom's directions, started issuing "gender-neutral" marriage licenses Thursday. Hundreds of couples, aware their opportunity may be fleeting, spent a rainy Monday in a three-block-long line outside the ornate building waiting for the historic chance to wed with the city's blessing. "We really felt that if we didn't make it by today that we wouldn't be able to," said Deb Agarwal, 40, after she and her partner of six years, Diane Pizza, 55, were married by an elected city supervisor, one of the dozens of city officials deputized to officiate at the nonstop nuptials. In a brief submitted for a court hearing Tuesday, lawyers for one of the groups seeking to block gay weddings said Newsom was in blatant violation of state law when he ordered marriage licenses for gay couples. Newsom has argued that the equal protection clause of the California constitution makes denying marriage licenses to gay couples illegal. But lawyers for a group formed to defend Proposition 22--a 2000 ballot initiative that says the state will recognize only marriages between a man and woman as valid--contend the mayor lacks the authority to make that decision. "What the mayor and his cronies have attempted to do is short-circuit the legal process by being both judge and jury themselves," said Alliance Defense Fund attorney Benjamin Bull. Another group, the Campaign for California Families, has a hearing scheduled before a different judge Tuesday. It wants an injunction to keep the city from issuing any more licenses to same-sex couples and a declaration that the ones already granted are invalid. The city's lawyers said they will argue that local government agencies or officials are not barred from advancing their own interpretations of the state constitution. They also claim the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that continuing to issue licenses for same-sex couples would cause the irreparable harm necessary to obtain a court stay. "Same-sex couples denied the right to marry face far greater harm than the petitioners here," stated a legal brief filed by the city Monday. Most of the gay couples getting married at City Hall are from the Bay Area, but about 50 are from other states, including New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, Assessor Mabel Teng said. Many of the city workers who helped process the licenses during the holiday weekend were volunteering their time, Teng said. The city will continue issuing marriage licenses on Tuesday "unless told otherwise by the city attorney," she said. But she added that the city will be able to issue only about 30 to 50 licenses a day starting Tuesday because the volunteers will have to return to their regular jobs. The looming legal showdown didn't deter thousands of people from gathering at City Hall on Monday, either to get married themselves or to cheer on beaming newlyweds. The steps in front of City Hall resembled a raucous wedding reception as newlyweds leaving the building hand-in-hand were greeted with applause and trumpet fanfare. Other couples drove by, honking their horns and waving their freshly minted marriage certificates. "It doesn't matter even if it's a one-day thing because of the precedent," said Tom O'Brien, of Redwood City, who returned to City Hall for the second day in a row so he could wed his partner of four years, Sathit Sapprasert. "It's important that we stand up. Whether this survives the scrutiny is another question."

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