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Court Order Leaves Couples at the Altar

Mayor tells partners arriving after the weddings are halted that he will press on with court fight.

March 12, 2004|Patrick Dillon | Special to The Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Pali Cooper and Jeanne Rizzo, a Marin County couple who have been together for 15 years, had been planning their wedding for nearly four weeks, since the first same-sex weddings were performed in the great rotunda of San Francisco's City Hall.

Cooper, a 48-year-old chiropractor and Rizzo, 57, head of the San Francisco-based national Breast Cancer Fund, had made an appointment for Thursday afternoon.

They arrived at 2:15 p.m., shortly before the appointed time to receive their marriage licenses, proceed to the rotunda steps for a two-minute ceremony surrounded by more than 50 supporters and have their license recorded, along with those of 4,161 same-sex couples who had married in San Francisco before them.

A party was planned at the couple's Tiburon home. The Bay Area was enjoying an unseasonably warm week, and City Hall, in the words of the city recorder and assessor, Mabel Teng, "was the happiest place on Earth." It was a perfect day for a wedding.

Then Teng put a stop to it. Mayor Gavin Newsom's office had just called, telling her that the state Supreme Court had ordered the city to stop marrying gay couples until further legal arguments are heard.

Cooper and Rizzo were headed down the aisle, in this case to the clerk's office, when they were turned away.

"We ran down the hall, but they were putting a sign up saying they could not continue," Cooper said. The city employees, she said, "all looked so sad. They were devastated."

Teng, who had personally performed three same-sex marriages Thursday morning, said she was tremendously disappointed.

"But I had to tell my people we could not continue."

Cooper, wearing a garland of fragrant tuberose that the couple had ordered flown in from Hawaii on Thursday morning, said the party would go on, "and we'll be back."

A friend of the couple was not so sanguine.

"This is just criminal," said Joan Reinhardt Reiss of San Francisco. "At least the court could have waited until the close of business."

In the meantime, 2,688 same-sex couples who have appointments to marry in San Francisco, a docket that was scheduled through the end of May, will have to wait at least until then for court hearings.

"This is an interim decision," Newsom said at a news conference from the mayor's balcony, overlooking the great staircase that had served as a wedding chapel. "We look forward now more than ever to our day in court. We are saying that we have read the Constitution of the United States and it provides equal protection to all people -- that means treating all people fairly and with dignity."

Listening in were Ross Landouceur and Stuart Sanders of Boulder Creek, near Santa Cruz. They had arrived in their tuxedos in time for their scheduled 2:30 p.m. ceremony. Inside City Hall, they were greeted by the sign saying that ceremonies had been suspended. But the couple found volunteer Deputy Marriage Commissioner Donald Bird and beseeched him to marry them, if unofficially. He agreed, and they formed a triangle as Bird gave a blessing.

"I'm just devastated," Landouceur said. "But we will be back."

Newsom, acknowledging Landouceur and Sanders in their tuxes and Cooper and Rizzo in their wedding garlands, who stood behind them, said: "I do want to extend our sympathies to couples who were denied the same right my wife and I have. I look forward to extending these rights to other couples who are waiting."

As the mayor worked his way through the crowd of press and onlookers, Cooper and Rizzo approached him. "We didn't make the cut this time," Cooper said, hugging the mayor. "But we'll be back. You just hang in there," she told Newsom.

At the close of business in the recorder's office, a sign that had been obscured by lines of couples became visible: "In Consideration of Others and to Ensure Safety, Please Do Not Throw Items Such as Rose Petals or Confetti."

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