Gay couples rush to wed in California before election

SAN FRANCISCO — Gay couples from around California and the nation are feverishly tying the knot ahead of Election Day to avoid missing out if voters approve a ballot initiative aimed at banning same-sex marriage.

Aaron Twitchell and Orlando Manzo from Austin, Texas, waited two months for an appointment to get a marriage license in San Francisco. When they got to the city clerk’s office, the line of people ahead of them was so long they worried they would be late for their own wedding.

“We are so happy California is so progressive they would allow something like this,” said Manzo, 33, as his partner of nine years recently watched the clock and held a Tiffany’s bag with their platinum rings inside. “I wouldn’t say it’s now or never, but we wanted to get married before then.”

The urgency intensified last week with news that Proposition 8’s supporters had far outraised its opponents and the measure was gaining support in public opinion polls.

“Couples are making their plans to come in before November 4 because people are getting a little uneasy,” said San Francisco Clerk-Recorder Karen Hong Lee. “It’s too close to call, basically, and it’s legal right now, so why wait? Why take the chance and say, ‘Let’s get married on November 5?’”

Proposition 8 would amend the state constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman. If approved, it would overturn a California Supreme Court ruling that made the state only the second, after Massachusetts, to legalize same-sex marriage. On Friday in Connecticut, the state Supreme Court ruled the state would be the third to allow gay marriage.

Since same-sex marriage became legal in California in mid-June, at least 11,000 couples have exchanged vows statewide, according to the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy based at the University of California, Los Angeles. That’s more than the 10,400 gay and lesbian couples who have wed in Massachusetts since gay marriage was legalized there in May 2004, according to the institute.

The demand for same-sex marriage licenses has proven so great in San Francisco that Hong doubled the number of daily reservations her office accepts each day. And she assigned a second marriage commissioner to perform weddings.

Even so, the office is booked solid through Oct. 21 for license appointments and has no more coveted Friday ceremony slots available between now and the election.

Apprehension over the forthcoming ballot initiative has taken a toll on many couples she knows, said psychotherapist Davina Kotulski.

“In any relationship, there is the pressure of where is this going. Do you commit now? Do you commit later?” she said. “But when you have a very small window of opportunity, it definitely adds increased pressure, and that could break up a couple before they make it to the altar.”

Although California Attorney General Jerry Brown has said he does not think marriages solemnized through Nov. 4 would become void if the measure passes, gay marriage opponents could try to litigate the matter. So some couples have decided to wait until after the election instead of putting themselves through such uncertainty.

Another unknown is whether same-sex marriages performed after the election would automatically not be recognized by the state. Allie Schembra, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said Proposition 8 would become effective the day after the election if it passes.

But county clerks say that because it usually takes a month for election results to be certified as final, they do not plan to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until they are directed by the state health department, which oversees marriage records.

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