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Same-sex weddings continue in City by the Bay

Same-sex weddings continue in City by the Bay

With either days or weeks to go before a judge could shut down San Francisco's same-sex wedding parade, city officials are keeping their week-old gay marriage program rolling and challenging President Bush to consider the real human beings who are finally being allowed to share the same civil rights that straight couples enjoy. The city reports that 175 same-sex couples were wed Wednesday, for a grand total of more than 2,700 happy couples, as local officials have opted to defend their actions in court rather than stop the wedding march. On Tuesday, Judge James L. Warren effectively gave the city a choice: Stop the weddings now, or return to court in about six weeks to explain why they should be considered legal. Mayor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday that the city would continue its unprecedented challenge to California's "defense of marriage" act on behalf of gays and lesbians. Also Wednesday, an appellate court declined to intervene in a separate challenge to the city's marriage policy before Friday, when the judge in that case said he would hear more arguments. As the weddings proceeded with increasingly routine efficiency at San Francisco's City Hall, the impact of the city's act of civil disobedience rippled across the country to Washington, D.C., where President Bush said he is monitoring the situation as he considers whether to support a proposed federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. "I have consistently stated that I'll support a law to protect marriage between a man and a woman," Bush said. "Obviously these events are influencing my decision." Newsom responded to Bush's statement by repeating that California's constitution prohibits him from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. And he urged the president to see the human faces involved in the city's new marriage policy, inviting him to meet the veteran lesbian activists who were the first couple to be wed with the city's blessing February 12. "I ask the president to meet Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin and discuss with them why they simply want the same rights as a couple of 51 years that my wife and I enjoy today," Newsom said in a statement. While out on the campaign trail in California raising reelection cash for her husband, first lady Laura Bush said Americans need time to sort out their feelings about gay marriage, which she said is a "shocking" concept to many people. Two groups have led the legal opposition to San Francisco's new marriage policy: the Campaign for California Families and a group formed to support Proposition 22, the ballot measure California voters approved in 2000 that says the state will recognize only marriages between a man and a woman as valid. Attorney Benjamin Bull, representing the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, said the group decided not to immediately appeal Warren's ruling, figuring that he'll ultimately rule in their favor. "I suspect, given the local political climate, that he was just being very careful about not offending the sensitivities of the proponents of same-sex marriage in San Francisco," Bull said. Some independent constitutional scholars agree that the courts will eventually declare that the city can't contravene state law. "Down the road, in the not-too-distant future, it's going to be decided that Mayor Newsom overstepped his authority," said Lawrence Levine of the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, an expert on sexual orientation and the law. In any event, state officials say they won't officially record any marriage certificates that have been altered in any way from the standard state form. For gay and lesbian couples, San Francisco officials replaced the words bride and groom with first applicant and second applicant. "We do not validate or invalidate the marriage. It would simply not be recorded or registered with the state," California health and human services agency spokeswoman Nicole Kasabian Evans reiterated on Wednesday. "Our role is ministerial in nature." Evans said counties have up to 90 days to send their forms to the state and that her agency hasn't yet received any of the altered marriage license forms from San Francisco. The situation remains confusing, even to the veteran bureaucrats involved. Evans, for example, said she doesn't know whether the state's rejection of the forms would have any effect on the legal status of the same-sex unions created with the city's blessing. Several family law attorneys also said they do not know whether marriage forms need to be recorded with the state to be considered valid. Despite all the political and legal questions, the gay and lesbian couples who flocked to City Hall to marry said there is nothing the politicians or courts could do--at least yet--to dampen their joy. "Even if we are married for only 10 minutes, we are married," said Tracey Turner, 39, of Yuba City, Calif., after she and her partner, Teira Taylor, 26, tied the knot. "Our certificate is recorded with the city, and no one can take that away from us."

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