More gay couples were married in California in the first three months that same-sex marriages were legal than were married in the first four years it was legal in Massachusetts, according to a new study.
The data, released Monday by UCLA's Williams Institute, found that an estimated 11,000 same-sex couples were married in California from June 17, when the California Supreme Court began allowing the weddings, to Sept. 17.
As of spring, 10,385 same-sex couples had wed in Massachusetts since the state legalized such unions in May 2004, according to a study by the institute released in July.
Next month, Californians will decide whether gay couples can continue to marry when they vote on Proposition 8, which would amend the state Constitution to define marriage as between only a man and a woman.
Predictably, the two sides in that battle had dramatically different reactions to the study.
"People have waited for so long to be able to do this. . . . I'm sure that is the reason for the big response," said Stevie St. John, a spokeswoman for the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center. She added that she thought the huge number of marriages was "great."
Pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in La Mesa, who has been rallying voters to pass the constitutional amendment, said: "The fact that there are big numbers doesn't change the reality that it is still bad for the country."
Garlow, who along with hundreds of other Christians, is observing a fast until election day as a way to show his support for the proposed amendment, added: "There are enormous numbers of people doing cocaine right now. . . . Simply because large numbers of people are doing something does not make it right."
Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute, a think tank devoted to the study of sexual orientation and the law, said the number of marriages, though large, represents only about 10% of the same-sex couples in California
"Who are these people getting married? What the other studies tell you is they are people in pretty long-term, stable relationships," he said.
There are more than 109,000 same-sex couples in California, an increase of 19,000 since 2000, according to a Williams Institute analysis of the U.S. Census. Nearly a quarter of these households have children -- and all together, there are more than 50,000 children living in same-sex households.
There is no way to know exactly how many same-sex marriages have been performed in California because the state does not collect information on the sex of couples who register to marry.
Gates said researchers arrived at their estimates by comparing the number of marriages in each county last year, before gay marriage was legal, with the number this year. Any increase was assumed to be from same-sex couples tying the knot.
The only exception is San Francisco, which is keeping an exact tally of same-sex marriages. There have been 2,708 from June 17 to Sept. 17.
Gates speculated that many of the marriages in San Francisco and some other counties may be attributed to out-of-state couples, because many of the places with the biggest spikes in marriages -- Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Riverside counties -- are top tourist destinations.
California and Massachusetts are the only two states in the country to allow same-sex marriage. And until recently, Massachusetts allowed only legal residents to marry.
Also this month, the California Department of Public Health said that it is changing the state's marriage license form -- again.
After same-sex marriage became legal, the state released forms that eliminated "bride" and "groom" and replaced them with "Party A" and "Party B."
Many couples were offended by the change. One couple filed a lawsuit demanding to be allowed to identify themselves as bride and groom.
State officials refused to comment on the suit, but the new forms, set to go into effect Nov. 17, give couples the option of identifying themselves as bride and groom.
Couples can also choose to identify themselves as bride and bride or groom and groom. Or they can leave the space blank.
Of course, if Proposition 8 is approved by voters, the state may need to change the forms again.
In a report filed with the secretary of state's office, the No-on-8 campaign disclosed it had raised $15.75 million by the end of last month, including $1.36 million from donors giving less than $1,000. The no-campaign has spent $14.7 million this year, including $10.4 million on television advertising.
Among the major donors to No-on-8 were several wealthy gay rights advocates; in addition, the Service Employees International Union has given $500,000 and the California Teachers Assn. $250,000.
The Yes-on-8 campaign had not filed its disclosure by late Monday.