With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to make a ruling this month on California’s ban on same-sex marriage, county clerks’ offices around the Bay Area are preparing to accommodate a potential influx of gay and lesbian couples lining up to tie the knot should Proposition 8 be overturned.
At San Francisco City Hall, where thousands of same-sex weddings took place when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom first allowed them in 2004 and again in 2008 when such unions were briefly legal statewide, dozens of volunteers are being trained to supplement regular office staff who process marriage licenses and officiate weddings, said Bill Barnes, a project manager in the San Francisco City Administrator’s Office.
Barnes said the clerk’s office has enlisted around 35 volunteers so the city is prepared—if Proposition 8 is overturned—to conduct as many as 200 weddings on the first day same-sex marriage becomes legal.
That’s more than four times the number of marriages the office oversees on an average day, he said.
“We’re pretty much going to be the main destination, and we get people coming in from all over the region,” Barnes said.
“We’re ready to go,” he said.
San Mateo County deputy clerk-recorder Theresa Rabe said her county saw a significant increase in marriage applications when gay marriage was legalized statewide between June and November 2008, and that her office is fully prepared to accommodate another rush of marriages.
“We saw a very large increase for those few months,” Rabe said. “We had people lined up outside the doors, and we are anticipating that again.”
Special preparations included cross-training staff to process marriage applications and perform ceremonies, as well ensuring that the county’s internal software was fully updated with the most recent changes to state forms.
“Our forms, our computer systems … everything is absolutely ready to go,” she said.
The Supreme Court could rule on Proposition 8 in any of a number of ways. It could uphold the initiative leaving the gay marriage ban in place, or it could strike it down on grounds that could apply to California alone, to states that already allow gay marriage, or to all 50 states.
The court could also decide to dismiss the appeal if it concludes that the sponsors lacked the legal authority to defend Proposition 8 on appeal after California officials declined to do so.
Santa Clara University constitutional law professor Pratheepan Gulasekaram said a ruling to dismiss Proposition 8 based on lack of standing would leave in place a 2010 ruling by U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker that overturned the gay marriage ban.
Such a ruling would not necessarily allow gay marriages to proceed right away, and would leave the door open to more litigation at the district court level “to determine the scope of Walker’s decision,” Gulasekaram said.
“If that’s the case, it’s a little more complicated,” he said. “There’s an open question as to when and how the ruling would be implemented.”
Gulasekaram said the Supreme Court could issue its decision on Prop 8 as early as Thursday or as late as June 27, when the Court’s 2012-2013 session ends.
Chris Cooney, Bay City News