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Gay weddings resume in California

In a surprise move, a federal court lifts the freeze on same-sex marriages. A Proposition 8 backer calls it 'chaos and lawlessness.'

June 28, 2013|By Maura Dolan, Anthony York and Maria L. La Ganga
  • After a long court battle against Proposition 8, plaintiffs Kris Perry, center left, and Sandy Stier are wed at San Francisco City Hall.
After a long court battle against Proposition 8, plaintiffs Kris Perry,… (Jeff Chiu, Associated Press )

SAN FRANCISCO — Same-sex marriages in California resumed Friday when a federal appeals court lifted a hold on a 2010 injunction, sparking jubilation among gays and accusations of lawlessness from the supporters of Proposition 8.

In a surprise action, a federal appeals court cleared the way, bypassing a normal waiting period and lifting a hold on a trial judge's order that declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional.

The news came in a single, legalistic sentence Friday afternoon from the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"The stay in the above matter is dissolved immediately," a three-judge panel wrote.

Gov. Jerry Brown told county clerks they could begin marrying same-sex couples immediately, launching plans for ceremonies up and down the state. The two same-sex couples who filed the federal lawsuit against Proposition 8 headed to the city halls in Los Angeles and San Francisco to tie the knot, ending their long fight to become legal spouses.

The first wedding, in San Francisco, began at 4:45 p.m. At 4:10 p.m., a cheer went up in the San Francisco City Hall rotunda. Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, made their way from the city clerk's office, where they got their marriage license, to the marble steps of City Hall, stopping for photographs.

In Southern California, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, headed to L.A. City Hall to tie the knot.

"It couldn't come a moment too soon," said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who sparked the legal effort for gay marriage in California when he was San Francisco mayor.

"What extraordinary timing, right before [gay] pride weekend," Newsom said. " All that time, all the struggle, and the moment has arrived."

Supporters of Proposition 8 were furious that the 9th Circuit acted before the normal waiting period. ProtectMarriage, the sponsors of the ballot measure, has 25 days from the ruling to ask for reconsideration.

"It is part and parcel of the utter lawlessness in which this whole case has been prosecuted, said Chapman Law professor John Eastman, a supporter of Proposition 8. "Normally, courts let the parties kind of pursue their legal remedies before they issue a mandate."

He said the 25-day period for asking the Supreme Court to reconsider still applied and a rehearing, though extremely unlikely, remained a technical possibility.

"Tonight it is chaos and lawlessness, and anyone who is concerned about the rule of law ought to be deeply troubled by what happened here," the constitutional law professor said.

Andy Pugno, general counsel for ProtectMarriage, expressed astonishment and dismay.

"I am not sure what we do at this moment," he said. "It is 4:30 p.m. on a Friday. I am not sure what can be done at this point. This is beyond belief. I don't think anybody expected this. The Supreme Court decision is not even final, and yet the 9th Circuit is rushing forward."

A spokesman for the 9th Circuit had told reporters Wednesday that normally it took "at least" 25 days for the 9th Circuit to act.

But UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said he knows of no instance in which the Supreme Court has granted a rehearing after delivering a full-blown ruling. He said he thinks the 9th Circuit's action was legally appropriate.

"I was surprised," Chemerinsky said. "They usually wait for the 25 days, and it just doesn't become an issue. But there is no way the Supreme Court is going to reconsider this."

He said the 9th Circuit undoubtedly realized that the decision was final and decided to end the waiting for same-sex couples. He noted that now-retired Chief U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker's order had been on hold three years.

Some clerks' offices extended their hours so couples could marry. Cathy Darling Allen, the clerk for Shasta County and the head of the California Assn. of Clerks and Election Officials, announced: "We are all a go. It's starting to happen."

She asked her fellow county clerks to notify her if they planned to stay open through the weekend.

When asked if she anticipated that some counties might not comply with the new law, she said, "Not as far as issuing licenses, no, I have no reason to believe we'd have an issue with that."

Gay rights activists said they were thrilled with the quick legal action.

"At last, justice is swift," said Rick Jacobs, founder of the Courage Campaign, a gay rights group. "The judicial branch checked and balanced the legislative branch and gave love a chance. Judge Vaughn Walker's historic ruling from August 2010 is now the law in California. Keep calm and marry on."

"We are ecstatic that same-sex couples can affirm their love and commitment for one another yet again in California by getting married," said John O'Connor, executive director of Equality California. "Today, on the 44th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the freedom to marry is restored in California, and it's here to stay!"

Jim Key, spokesman for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, said he was elated but shocked by the news.

"This is the way it should be," he said. "We have been waiting for more than 4 1/2 years now for marriage equality, and nobody should have to wait a day longer than necessary."

"It was a bit anticlimactic having to wait at least 25 more days after the ruling."

Key said that ever since the court of appeals ruled on Proposition 8, people have called from all over Los Angeles, offering to donate champagne and wedding cakes to help the center host weddings in its courtyard.

He's been waiting for nearly three years to take them up on the offers. When the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that same-sex marriages could continue, Key began to plan for a celebration still 25 days away.

"We never expected the court to move this quickly," he said.

Times staff writers Hailey Branson-Potts, Christine Mai-Duc and David Zahniser contributed to this report.

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