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Wedding, Frisco style

National | GAY MARRIAGE: Courts had no speedy remedy for the San Francisco mayor's civil disobedience, but his bogus marriage licenses were thwarted by a paperwork technicality

Issue: "Mel Gibson's passion," Feb. 28, 2004

Conservatives have to admit that sometimes bureaucracy is a good thing. The same-sex wedding boom in San Francisco run by Mayor Gavin Newsom hit a bureaucratic snag when the California health department said it will not register or record any marriage licenses that differ from VS 113, the standard, state-approved form.

San Francisco officials have since Feb. 12 used an altered marriage license application approved by city attorney Dennis Herrera. Where "bride" and "groom" appear on VS 113, the altered version reads "applicant one" and "applicant two."

The official state form reflects three California laws that describe marriage as the union between a man and a woman. "If the exact form is not used, or if it has been filled out incorrectly," health department spokesman Tony Cava told WORLD, "it will be returned to [San Francisco]."

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But Mr. Cava also said that the health department is "not in the business of validating or invalidating marriages." The refusal of the state to record a marriage license is "an administrative issue," he said. "If a couple [that used an altered license] tried to contact the state for a copy of their marriage license, there wouldn't be a copy on file."

But gay-marriage opponents said the state's refusal to record altered marriage licenses is more than an administrative issue. "The fact of the matter is that if the marriage license is not recorded by the proper state authority, it's monopoly money," said Rich Jefferson of the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), one of two public-interest law firms seeking to stop gay marriages in San Francisco.

ADF attorneys argued against the city's same-sex marriage bonanza in the second of two hearings held on Feb. 17. Superior Court Judge James Warren issued to San Francisco officials a "cease and desist" order, asking them to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses and "marrying" same-sex couples. But the order also gave city officials an out: If they refuse to comply, they must return to court on March 29 to explain why.

ADF chief counsel Benjamin Bull said that six-week window, if not curtailed by interim court rulings, will have two results: One, "a false hope" among homosexual couples that California will recognize their marriages despite contrary and unambiguous state law. And two, "allowing advocates of gay marriage to claim victory based on a mirage" of judicial approval.

Consumers of secular news media already are viewing a mirage, said Mr. Bull. Television images pouring out of the Bay Area depict a procession of cheerful couples, unremarkable except for their sameness of gender, streaming into city hall. "But if you're here [in San Francisco], you see guys with shaved heads chained to their partners, men wearing wedding dresses ... nasty comments and stare-downs."

Mr. Bull said the crowds of pro-gay activists inside the courthouse may have created an atmosphere that "made it difficult for Judge Warren to issue the ruling he knew was proper. I don't think he wants to be known in the history of San Francisco as the judge who stopped this runaway train."

Meanwhile, California Republicans are considering how to respond. Vastly outnumbered by Democrats in the legislature, GOP lawmakers are unable to take parliamentary action, such as a resolution denouncing what Rep. Ray Haynes called, simply, "anarchy." But Republicans may circulate a letter calling on Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who was notified in advance of Mayor Newsom's intention to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in San Francisco, to enforce California law as written.

Rep. Haynes also noted that state rules "allow for the filing of ethics complaints against sitting members engaged in unlawful behavior." At least one group intends to file such a complaint against Rep. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat who presided over several same-sex wedding ceremonies on Feb. 12, the first day the city began issuing licenses. But the lawmaker may have inadvertently acknowledged his own actions as unlawful: Before he began officiating, he formally introduced legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in California.

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