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Counties brace for same-sex weddings

June 12, 2008|Jean-Paul Renaud | Times Staff Writer

The first, busy days that same-sex couples will be allowed to wed in California promise to be chaotic and confusing, as counties throughout the state are coming up with widely varying procedures for implementing the Supreme Court's order lifting the ban on gay marriage.

In Los Angeles County, marriage licenses will be issued Tuesday -- the first full day the court's order takes effect -- on a first-come, first-served basis. Orange County, by contrast, has been allowing couples to make appointments to get licenses. San Bernardino County plans to close its two satellite offices and issue licenses and perform ceremonies only at its main location.

Butte County, however, indicated that it would follow the lead of Kern County in halting its practice of performing marriage ceremonies altogether, citing budget reasons.

Officials in most other counties, however, expect next week to be very busy, as gay couples throughout the state scramble to avail themselves of the newly bestowed right to marry.

"Undoubtedly it will be hectic," said Sonoma County Recorder Janice Atkinson. "I think it will be hectic just by the numbers we will be doing. If you're interested in getting married next week, call the county."

San Diego County, which is allowing appointments and walk-ins for marriage licenses, already has started feeling the crunch: 160 couples have made appointments for Tuesday, surpassing the Valentine's Day crush of 151 couples.

Diana Bradrick, San Diego's chief deputy recorder/county clerk, said, "We don't really know what the total number will be."

But procedures regarding where to go -- and when -- to get a marriage license vary widely among the counties, confusing even the county clerks.

"In 58 counties, the county clerks do things about 57 different ways," said Atkinson, who is trying to keep track of it all for the California Assn. of Clerks and Election Officials. "I've got a spreadsheet trying to keep these things straight."

Sonoma County, along with at least three others, is starting early, issuing licenses and performing ceremonies beginning at 5:01 p.m. Monday, the moment the court order officially takes effect.

L.A. County Acting Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean C. Logan is considering allowing one couple -- one of the litigants in the case that overturned the marriage ban last month -- to wed before Tuesday. Logan said Wednesday that he hadn't made a decision yet.

His consideration of the matter was prompted in part by those worried that San Francisco -- or Sonoma County -- would steal the limelight by becoming the first county to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has said he plans to officiate at the city's first marriage at 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

"I know there's an effort both here and in San Francisco to have the first marriages the night before, and we're considering to see how it would be done logistically -- like who has the keys to the building," Yaroslavsky said Wednesday.

But Logan said his Norwalk office's doors will open promptly at 8 a.m. Tuesday for couples eager to wed.

"We've never taken appointments for licenses," he said. "We will do everything on a first-come, first-served basis. We are going to ramp up so we can accommodate that."

Orange County, however, is setting up appointments 30 minutes apart in hopes of avoiding long waits.

More than 50 couples -- 39 of them same-sex -- have asked for licenses Tuesday, officials said.

State officials are not allowing counties to post new online marriage license applications, which replace the words "bride and groom" with "Party A and Party B," until the order takes effect Monday evening.

So same-sex couples making appointments online in Orange County have had to fill out the old form. The wording will change automatically after 5 p.m. Monday.

"If you have a sense of humor, it might be something you might remember later," said Jean Pasco, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Recorder's Office.

And in San Bernardino County, Auditor/Controller-Recorder Larry Walker said he would consolidate three offices into one starting Tuesday to better monitor how new procedures and staff training are taking hold.

"We want to make sure that every person that comes in to get married on Tuesday has a ceremony that's without problems," he said.

Several smaller counties contacted by The Times on Wednesday said they would not change any of their procedures, hours or locations.

And staffers in at least a couple of rural counties said they would have no reservations about performing same-sex weddings.

"Only four people work here, and we're all fine with it," said a clerk in Inyo County.


Times staff writer Phil Willon contributed to this report.

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