San Francisco Gets Ready to Marry ‘Anyone Who Wants To’

June 26 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court gave a victory to the gay-rights movement, striking down a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples and clearing the way for weddings to resume in California. Megan Hughes reports on Bloomberg Television's "Bloomberg West." (Source: Bloomberg)

San Francisco has ordered additional marriage licenses printed and plans extended hours for ceremonies to accommodate same-sex weddings legalized by yesterday’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Gay marriages may resume in a matter of weeks, once legal procedures are completed, after justices ruled that supporters of a successful 2008 California ballot proposition that limited marriage to heterosexual couples didn’t have legal standing to appeal after a federal judge declared the law unconstitutional.

“As soon as we get that go-live date, we are ready,” said City Administrator Naomi Kelly, who ordered the extra license forms. “We’re going to marry anyone who wants to get married that day. We’ll open up at 8 and stay there until the very last person who wants to get married. We are ready for it and we are very excited.”

The high court’s ruling was greeted with applause and hugs among a crowd filling the rotunda of the Beaux Arts City Hall. A rainbow flag representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people hung on the front of the building. Those gathered ranged from men in suits to two women dressed as a bride and groom.

“It’s been a long road, many years, but gosh it feels good to have love triumph over ignorance, to have equality triumph over discrimination,” Mayor Ed Lee, 61, told the cheering throng. Some in the crowd were in tears.

Besides the ruling on Proposition 8, the court also overturned the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which barred U.S. government agencies from recognizing gay marriages.

Governor’s Order

Governor Jerry Brown, 75, ordered California’s county clerks, registrars and recorders to begin issuing wedding licenses as soon as the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco issues an order dissolving the stay that has been in place pending the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Supporters of Proposition 8 didn’t concede.

“We will continue to defend Prop 8 and seek its enforcement until such time as there is a binding statewide order that renders Prop 8 unenforceable,” ProtectMarriage.com, a group set up to promote the ballot measure in 2008, said in a statement posted on its website.

Yesterday’s decisions reflect a nationwide shift in public opinion on same-sex marriage, with more people favoring making them legal. Barack Obama, a Democrat, became the first sitting president to back them last year.

In November, voters weighing same-sex marriage ballot proposals in Maryland, Maine, Washington and Minnesota voted in support of the practice. It is legal in 12 states and the District of Columbia.

‘Means Everything’

“This ruling means everything to us,” said Lisa Dazols, 34, a social worker wearing a black vest, white shirt and purple tie, alongside her partner, Jennifer Chang, in a bridal veil and knee-length white dress at San Francisco City Hall. “I’ve been dying to legally marry her.”

Chang, 31, a business manager at EBay Inc. (EBAY), said, “It’s just a huge thing for the government to be able to say we are equal.”

Asked when they would plan a ceremony, Dazols replied, “Well, we’re ready today.”

At the intersection of Market Street and Castro Street, a gathering point for the gay community, people waved rainbow flags and cheered as passing drivers honked their horns in celebration.

Safiya Delaney took up a position near Harvey Milk Plaza, a memorial to the assassinated gay-rights leader, flourishing a flag and ringing a bell. She wore a hat shaped like a pig with wings that flapped above her ears when she pulled a string.

‘Pigs Fly’

“Like they say, ‘Gay marriage will happen when pigs fly,’” she said. “Pigs are flying!”

“Whoever I fall in love with, I can now marry and I don’t have to worry about their gender,” Delaney said. “It’s straight-up equality.”

Nearby, Fred Schein, president of the San Francisco chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, a group that advocates for gay rights, handed out fliers for a neighborhood party to mark the rulings.

“The city is on board,” Schein said, “right through the street closures to the cleanup afterwards.”

To be sure, the city wasn’t in unanimous agreement. In the financial district, retired truck driver Pat Rada, 59, said that while he supports the court ruling and equality, he’s not thrilled by public displays of same-sex affection.

Disagreeable Aspects

“There are certain aspects about gay marriage that I don’t agree with,” he said. “I don’t like the idea that they walk down the street being over-affectionate. A husband and wife or even boyfriend and girlfriend don’t sit there and grope.”

Support for same-sex marriage in the state rose to a record level last month, according to a poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. More than half, 56 percent, of adults favor the practice, with 38 percent against, according to the May 14-20 telephone survey of 1,704 adults. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

The battle over gay marriage in California began in February 2004 when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing wedding licenses to same-sex couples, leading to a legal challenge by opponents. In March 2004, the state Supreme Court ordered the city to stop.

In May 2008, the California Supreme Court ruled that the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage laws violated state constitutional rights to privacy and equal protection. A month later, opponents responded by gathering enough signatures to put Proposition 8 on the November ballot.

Legal Window

More than 18,000 same-sex couples got marriage licenses in California in the five-month window between the state Supreme Court’s ruling that gay marriages were legal and the passage of Proposition 8, which effectively blocked that decision.

“I feel proud for all the lives that have been affirmed and relationships that have been affirmed and families whose lives are a little bit better today,” Newsom, 45, told reporters outside City Hall yesterday. The Democrat is now the state’s lieutenant governor.

Voters’ approval of Proposition 8 set off legal challenges that culminated in the high court’s review.

“The sentiment of the country has been shifting,” said Zachary Fox, a 31-year-old business consultant, holding hands at City Hall with his partner, Daniel Tabib, a 29-year-old lawyer.

“A lot of it is everyone has a gay friend or a gay family member now,” Tabib said. “It’s finally being accepted as normal when it was normal all along. It’s a really good thing.”

Asked how they planned to celebrate, Tabib replied, “We’ll go to work first, pay the bills” before attending the block party in the Castro neighborhood, the center of the city’s gay community.

“Maybe an engagement ring soon,” Tabib added, smiling at his partner. “We’ll see. Families are asking.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Alison Vekshin in San Francisco at avekshin@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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