By MARY CALLAHAN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A federal court Friday afternoon unexpectedly lifted California’s ban on same-sex marriages, triggering another round of celebration and setting the stage for a rush on county courthouses by couples seeking marriage licenses and civil wedding ceremonies.
The decision had not been expected for several more weeks.
In Sonoma County, the clerk’s office immediately began receiving calls from gay and lesbian couples and quickly began scheduling appointments, beginning when doors open 8 a.m. Monday.
Among those to call was a woman “too excited to talk,” said legal processor Judith Garcia said. But when she handed the phone to her partner, she, too, stumbled over her words in her elation.
When a man called to make his own inquiries, he also was highly emotional, Garcia said.
“You can sense the anxiety, the excitement,” she said.
Two high-profile marriages were conducted late Friday afternoon with the weddings of the couples whose lawsuit led to the toppling of Prop. 8, the state’s ban on same-sex marriages.
Kris Perry and Sandy Stier of Berkeley were married by state Attorney General Kamala Harris at San Francisco City Hall a short time after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals announced it was lifting the stay.
Southern California plaintiffs Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo married two hours later at Los Angeles City hall.
The day’s developments marked a turn-around from earlier warnings that it would take 25 days to finalize the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Wednesday that proponents of Prop. 8 had no legal standing to challenge a 2010 lower federal court ruling that invalidated Prop. 8.
But the appeals court, which had blocked the lower court ruling while the case was taken to the Supreme Court, abruptly lifted its stay Thursday without further court proceedings.
“On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the United States acknowledged that gay and lesbian Californians are equal under the law and can once again marry the person they love,” said Perry, the plaintiff in the case who married on Thursday. “Today, Sandy and I realized that promise of equality, as we stand here united in marriage.”
Sponsors of California’s same-sex marriage ban were caught off-guard and complained that the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit’s swift action made it more difficult for them to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision.
Under Supreme Court rules, the losing side has 25 days to ask the high court to rehear the case, and Proposition 8′s backers had not yet announced whether they would do so.
“The resumption of same-sex marriage this day has been obtained by illegitimate means. If our opponents rejoice in achieving their goal in a dishonorable fashion, they should be ashamed,” said Andy Pugno, general counsel for a coalition of religious conservative groups that sponsored the 2008 ballot measure.
“It remains to be seen whether the fight can go on, but either way, it is a disgraceful day for California,” he said.
The last time same-sex weddings were given the go-ahead win California was May 14, 2008, when the California Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a state law reserving marriage for one man and one woman.
The lasted until Nov. 4 of that year, when voters approved Prop. 8 amending the state constitution to prohibit marriage between two men or two women. In the interim, 18,000 same-sex couples were wed.
Though statistics from that period don’t differentiate between heterosexual and same-sex couples, the Sonoma County Clerk’s Office issued 709 more marriage licenses during that timeframe, 40 percent more than during the same period a year earlier.
There were nearly three times more weddings performed by Sonoma County Clerk’s personnel — up from 317 in 2007 to 864 in 2008, and then back to 362 the next year, when gay marriages were again banned.
By 5 p.m. Friday, a handful of same-sex weddings had been scheduled for Monday with a few for later in the week. The county clerk’s office also was set to remain open for marriage services until 8 p.m. Monday to accommodate what County Clerk Bill Rousseau and his chief deputy, Deva Proto, expect would be a rush to the altar.
Any further expansion of hours was to be announced Monday.
They office was set to accommodate up to three weddings an hour. Those authorized to perform in-house weddings include at least 10 managers in the Clerk-Recorder-Assessor’s Office, five clerks and the members of the Board of Supervisors. Civilians also can arrange for training to be “deputies for a day” authorizing them to perform a particular wedding on a particular date.
Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who was in Chicago for a conference, said that he would make time Monday to help with the weddings — not because the demand was expected to be overwhelming, but because, he said, “I want to be part of it.”
“This is historic,” he said. “I’m incredibly excited.”
Those who want to be married by the County Clerk’s Office must have an appointment and must first apply for a marriage license.
County personnel urged interested parties to apply online to help ease license processing, which Rousseau said would be the most likely place for a bottleneck.
Either way, the couple must appear together to be issued a license, county personnel said.
More information is available at www.sonoma-county.org/clerk/marriage.htm.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.