Calif. Clerks: When Does Gay-Marriage Ban Begin?

By: AP
By: AP

County clerks across California are clamoring for legal advice to resolve confusion about when to begin the gay-marriage ban that voters passed last week in a ballot initiative.

At least three same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses since the Nov. 4 passage of the measure overturning the state Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.

As California wrestled with the issue, a gay-rights activist on Thursday filed a complaint accusing the Mormon church of failing to report the full value of the work it did campaigning for the ban. And nationwide, gay marriage advocates planned dozens of rallies this weekend to speak out against the Election Day setback.

Despite California Attorney General Jerry Brown's declaration that the state wouldn't recognize any gay unions after Election Day, confused clerks kept handing out licenses for days.

Complicating matters further, some couples who signed their paperwork before Nov. 4 and have yet to say "I do" will be requesting civil marriage ceremonies, gay-rights attorneys say.

County officials who inquired with Brown's office about how to handle the situation were told to ask the state's 58 county attorneys. That puts local authorities in the uncomfortable position of interpreting the law for themselves, said Merced County Clerk Stephen Jones, whose office allowed a male couple to fill out marriage forms on Nov. 5.

"We weren't guaranteeing couples that their marriage licenses would be good, but our attorney said we had to keep issuing them, so that's what we did," said Jones, who called off gay marriages on Nov. 7. "His opinion was that those marriages are good until we get a final count of the election results."

That may not happen until mid-December.

The California Association of Clerks and Election Officials has told its members to suspend all gay marriages, unless they receive different advice from a state agency or the final tally of votes shows that the proposition failed.

Gay-rights advocates have filed three legal challenges asking the state Supreme Court to invalidate Proposition 8 on the grounds that voters don't have the authority to revoke equal rights. They say only the state Legislature can do that.

"We're in a real limbo period right now," said Shannon Minter, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "There is a good chance that some of these marriages could turn out to be valid, depending on what the court does."

It's unclear how many couples have gotten married since the vote, said Rebecca Martinez, president of the clerks association.

In Sacramento, a lesbian couple and two men from nearby suburbs said their vows Nov. 5 hours after Proposition 8 passed, officials said.

In Norwalk, about 15 miles south of Los Angeles, the registrar's office kept handing out licenses until at least midmorning, but officials said they couldn't tell whether any same-sex couples had tied the knot because the forms don't track participants' gender.

From June 16 - when the Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage went into effect - until Nov. 4, an estimated 18,000 same-sex couples in California tied the knot.

The complaint against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints alleges that it ran out-of-state phone banks, produced commercials and provided other services that must be reported as contributions to the Proposition 8 campaign.

"Let's be transparent here. If they are going to play in the political process, they need to abide by the rules like everyone else," said Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, who submitted the complaint to the enforcement division of the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Mormon church spokeswoman Kim Farah said the church has complied with all campaign finance laws and is confident an investigation would prove that.

The Fair Political Practices Commission has 14 days to decide to open an investigation, to warn the party named in the complaint or conclude no action is needed, according to commission spokesman Roman Porter.

Gay-rights advocates say at least 150 rallies are planned this weekend to re-energize support for gay unions.

In Boston, organizers expect thousands to attend a Saturday rally, which advocates say will highlight the positive aspects of gay marriage. Marc Solomon of MassEquality says Massachusettts is in a unique position to show that gay marriage is a benefit to families, children and society.

"We're the place where it's happened," he said, noting that the state was the first to legalize gay marriage. "You can look to us and see that marriage equality works and it's a good thing, and the scare tactics were just that, scare tactics."

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Associated Press writers Lisa Leff in San Francisco, Noaki Schwartz in Los Angeles and Jay Lindsay in Boston contributed to this report.

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