County now taking appointments for same-sex couples to wed

By City News Service

Same-sex couples in San Diego County can now make an appointment to get married, but they will have to wait at least one week to have the ceremony.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco agreed Thursday to lift a stay he had imposed on his own ruling striking down Proposition 8, the voter-approved measure that banned same-sex unions in California. But Walker said the stay will remain in place through Wednesday, “solely in order to permit the court of appeals to consider the issue in an orderly manner.”

The decision means supporters of Proposition 8 have one week to take their case to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which could still feasibly prevent Walker’s ruling from taking effect.

San Diego County Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk David Butler said his office is accepting appointments for same-sex couples to get a marriage license or have a ceremony performed, starting on Aug. 19, but that could change if a stay is granted in another court.

“Obviously, it is with the understanding that if the Ninth Circuit issues a stay everything will come to a grinding halt again,” he said.

The San Diego County Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk’s Office can handle 90-100 licenses and about 50 ceremonies a day at its branch downtown at the County Administration Center, Butler said.

Marriage licenses and weddings are also performed at branch offices in San Marcos and El Cajon, he said.

One couple was at the County Administration Center this morning trying to make an appointment, Butler said. Several other same-sex couples showed up at the office immediately after Walker’s ruling to make an appointment.

Butler said his office is prepared should same-sex weddings resume.

“It’s like performing any other ceremony as far as we are concerned and any other license,” he said.

Walker - who was appointed to the federal bench by President George H. W. Bush in 1989 - ruled last week that Proposition 8, approved by California voters in 2008, violated the 14th Amendment that guarantees equal protection to all Americans.

In his 136-page ruling, Walker wrote that the proposition “both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.”

But he granted a temporary a stay on the ruling at the request of Proposition 8 supporters, who said allowing couples to marry pending the appeal would create confusion if Walker’s ruling is eventually overturned.

The fight over Proposition 8 is expected to eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In March 2000, California voters approved Proposition 22, which specified in state law that only marriages between a man and a woman are valid in California. But in May 2008, the state Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays, and an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples got married in the ensuing months.

Opponents of same-sex marriage quickly got Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot to amend the state constitution, and it was approved by a margin of 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent.

The approval of the measure led to statewide protests and lawsuits challenging the legality of Proposition 8.

In May 2009, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, but also ruled that the unions of roughly 18,000 same-sex couples who were wed in 2008 would remain valid.