SAN FRANCISCO — Gay couples in California rushed to set wedding dates Wednesday after the California Supreme Court's unusually quick rejection of challenges to its historic decision permitting same-sex couples to wed.
By rejecting petitions asking for reconsideration of the May 15 ruling, the court, in a 4-3 vote, removed the final obstacle to same-sex marriages starting June 17.
The court also refused to delay enforcement of the decision until after the November election, when voters will decide whether to reinstate a ban on same-sex nuptials.
Hours after the court made the timing clear, a jubilant Jason Lyon scheduled his wedding in Los Angeles to his partner of eight years, Tim Hartley.
"I'm thrilled -- over the moon," said Lyon, 39, who scurried to invite friends to the couple's Silver Lake home for a caravan to the county clerk's office and a celebratory lunch on the first day gay marriage is legal.
County clerks have been warned to prepare for an onslaught of weddings. As of June 17, the words "bride" and "groom" on marriage licenses will be replaced with "Partner A" and "Partner B."
A soon-to-be-released study by the Williams Institute at UCLA's School of Law predicts that thousands of gay couples will rush to the altar before the November election.
The study projects that the numbers will swell if voters reject the anti-gay-marriage initiative, forecasting that 51,320 gay California couples and 67,513 from out of state will marry in the state during the next three years.
Extrapolating from the study, based on census data and Massachusetts' experience after it permitted same-sex matrimony, the director of the institute -- which focuses on sexual orientation law and public policy -- said more than 20,000 weddings were anticipated by November.
While some gay Californians finalized their plans for the altar Wednesday, others were unsure whether to pop the question.
Matt Dorsey, who works for the city of San Francisco, explained the likely hesitation of some gay men to tie the knot.
"We may be gay, but we're guys. We're a little commitment-phobic," he said.
The court's decision to reject the appeals was unusually speedy. Petitions for rehearing, even those that are all but certain to be turned down, usually delay enforcement of rulings for 30 to 60 days.
Voting in favor of rehearing the case were Justices Marvin R. Baxter, Ming W. Chin and Carol A. Corrigan, who dissented in May's ruling. Chief Justice Ronald M. George and Justices Joyce L. Kennard, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carlos R. Moreno voted to reject the appeals.
Opponents of same-sex marriage were quick to denounce the court's decision and warn gays that their marriages might not stand if voters amend the state constitution in November to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.
"This is another 4-3 vote for legal chaos," said Glen Lavy, senior counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian-affiliated group that had asked the court to put its marriage ruling on hold.
"The court has not only ignored the will of the people and imposed a redefinition of marriage on Californians, it has inflicted years of legal chaos quite possibly on the entire country," Lavy said.
Attorneys general from 10 states also had asked the court to delay finalizing the ruling until after the November election, saying they anticipate a lot of litigation from couples who wed in California and want their home states to recognize the marriages.
If the November initiative to ban same-sex marriage passes, the status of gay couples who already married will be heavily litigated and decided ultimately by the California Supreme Court, said UCLA law professor Brad Sears.
A legal rule that says laws should be interpreted retroactively only if they explicitly state they are retroactive "weighs in favor of this court continuing to recognize the marriages," Sears said.
But some opponents of same-sex marriage said that if the initiative passes, they will again ask the court to invalidate the entire ruling, which also gave gays heightened constitutional protections against discrimination.
The court turned down the appeals in closed session, as it does in all petitions for rehearing.
The nine-sentence order dispatched the case without stating the justices' reasons for acting, also standard procedure.
While county clerks in large cities were bracing for wedding madness, those in rural counties said they expected that few same-sex couples would apply for marriage licenses.
"I personally have had only one call," said Rose Gallo-Vasquez, assistant county clerk in rural Colusa County, north of Sacramento. "I don't think we're going to have a lot of them."
The clerk's office in San Francisco was scheduling appointments for couples, but the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office said it would simply try to accommodate those people who show up.
The Los Angeles County office was considering extending hours June 17 in Norwalk and West Hollywood and marrying couples on Saturday, June 21.
"We can't gauge the size of the crowds," said spokesman Paul Drugan.
Pasadena's All Saints Church, a liberal Episcopal parish whose clergy have endorsed gay marriage, has so far scheduled 14 same-sex weddings for the summer.
"We're very excited," said the Rev. Susan Russell.
Palm Springs Councilman Rick Hutcheson said the city was "planning and preparing."
Hutcheson is among several City Council members who have been deputized to perform marriage ceremonies, and local hotels have been trying to create wedding packages that include airfare and accommodations.
"We're going to be ready to roll on the 17th," he said.