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Same-sex unions swell numbers

Survey finds that more than 2 1/2 times the state's usual number of couples are issued licenses.

June 28, 2008|Francisco Vara-Orta | Times Staff Writer

County clerks issued more than 8,500 marriage licenses in the first week same-sex marriage was legal in California, more than 2 1/2 times an average June week, a Times survey found.

The tally includes licenses issued to both same-sex and heterosexual couples, although county clerks in many locations indicated that the majority went to gay and lesbian couples. The state, which is not tracking the gender of applicants, has replaced "Bride" and "Groom" on marriage applications with the terms "Party A" and "Party B."

In Los Angeles County, the state's most populous, 1,806 licenses were issued from 5:01 p.m. on June 16, when the ban lifted, through June 23. The number, the highest in the state, was nearly twice an average week. San Diego County reported 864 licenses issued, up from 225; San Francisco County 849, up from 120; Orange County 667, up from 150; and Riverside County 493, up from 45.

Riverside County, where Palm Springs has marketed itself as a destination for gay marriages, saw the largest percentage increase, jumping nearly 1,000%. County officials said 329 of the 493 licenses issued went to same-sex couples.

"You know, honestly, I think we didn't know what to expect," said Riverside County's Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder Larry W. Ward. "We had heard that there were going to be airplanes of people flown in but that never materialized so we were a bit over-prepared."

Still, he said business catapulted in some of his sleepier offices -- jumping one day in Indio to 99 from a norm of 4. Ward said he was relieved the county didn't have to turn anyone away.

"What I saw were people that cared for one another deeply and I think we made a lot of people happy," said Ward, now in his third year as clerk. "And we got the job done, so that makes me happy."

Some counties such as Kern, where the county clerk stopped performing marriage ceremonies when the ban on gay marriage was lifted, saw almost no change over the course of the week. In Lake, Del Norte, and Amador counties, fewer marriage licenses were issued than on a typical week in June.

Lake County, which saw the biggest dip for the week, at nearly 60%, issued 10 licenses, down from the June weekly average of 25.

In Colusa County, about 70 miles north of Sacramento, County Clerk Kathleen Moran and her staff prepared for expected same-sex couples, only to be disappointed. They rewrote the brief script for marriage ceremonies, replacing "husband" and "bride" with "spouse" and had a 45-minute meeting during which all staff members expressed comfort with marrying gays and lesbians.

But not a same-sex couple came to be wed, nor was a protester seen, Moran said. They issued five licenses that week, about average, all to heterosexual couples.

Colusa County, like most in the state's agricultural heartland, is conservative, Moran said. In March 2000 nearly 80% of voters there supported Prop. 22, which sought to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Still, Moran said, "this is a place where you better coexist. Eventually you're going to run into just about everyone at the grocery store."

Although numbers in some parts of the state fell back to normal levels in recent days, in some places the demand remained higher than usual.

With Gay Pride weekend underway in San Francisco, the county clerk there had 259 marriage license appointments and 284 reservations for wedding ceremonies for Friday, up from the 202 license appointments and 115 weddings performed on the first full day of legal same-sex marriage.

In Santa Cruz County, clerk Gail Pellerin said her office is continuing to offer three wedding ceremonies a day instead of just three weddings each Thursday. Pellerin said her office issued 127 licenses during the first full week of same-sex marriages, up from their average of 51.

"I could name (a gay couple) in every part of the county, but I don't know if that means anything," Pellerin said late Friday afternoon as she prepared for a same-sex wedding before closing. "I'm sure they are everywhere, maybe even next door. I guess that's the worry for some, relief for others."

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francisco.varaorta@latimes.com

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