Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

SF ready to resume
same-sex marriages


San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu
(Photo: Bill Wilson)
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Should California be given the go-ahead to resume same-sex marriages, San Francisco city officials plan to be ready to wed same-sex couples as soon as possible.

City leaders have begun coordinating their efforts to prepare for an expected onslaught of LGBT couples that have been waiting since November 2008 to say "I do." They have been lining up volunteers to serve as wedding officiants and working up contingency plans to ensure for a smooth process on the first day that the weddings can occur.

"All of our intention is when we have the go ahead and green light to marry folks to do it as quickly as possible," said Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu, who was appointed to the position earlier this year by Mayor Ed Lee due to the vacancy created by the election last fall of Phil Ting to the state Assembly.

Just when exactly the same-sex marriages could happen remains in doubt. It could be weeks or months following a favorable court decision for the weddings to resume.

Asked when her office expects the marriages to begin, Chu said, "We don't have any indication yet."

Chu said her office's expectation is to see a decision on the matter from the U.S. Supreme Court either Monday, June 24 or Thursday, June 27. The court normally issues its rulings on those days at 7 a.m. Pacific time.

"We are hopeful the decision is in favor of same-sex marriage," said Chu, formerly the city's District 4 supervisor.

Once the court issues its ruling, the California Department of Public Health Vital Records office will work with Governor Jerry Brown's office and the California Health and Human Services Agency to review the decision and issue guidance to local county clerks and recorders on when to start marrying same-sex couples.

"The timeframe for implementation will be dependent upon how the court rules," stated Matt Conens, a spokesman with the state health department.

In March the court heard arguments in the lawsuit known as Hollingsworth v. Perry on the validity of Proposition 8, California's anti-gay constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage that voters adopted five years ago. It is widely expected that the justices will overturn Prop 8, though opinions vary on how they will reach such a decision.

It is also expected that it will take some time before state officials can implement a ruling striking down Prop 8. There is a 30-day window for Prop 8's proponents to petition the court to rehear the matter, though such petitions are rarely granted.

And, as the Bay Area Reporter noted in a story last week, there could also be new litigation in state court over how to implement either the federal district court's decision or the appellate court's ruling against Prop 8 depending on how the Supreme Court decides.

"Obviously, we are going to be prepared to do whatever we can to assure marriages happen as quickly as possible," City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office helped litigate the case, told the B.A.R. in a recent interview.

In the meantime the mayor's office, the county clerk, city administrator's office, the sheriff's department, city attorney's office and the assessor's office have been meeting to coordinate the city's plans for the first day that the weddings can occur. It will be similar to the procedures put in place five years ago when the first same-sex weddings began on June 17 following the state Supreme Court's decision striking down California's anti-gay marriage statutes.

There will be a one-stop shop for marrying couples set up in the north light court in City Hall where they can pick up a marriage license (it costs $99) and request to be married that day. They can pay an additional $75 to use a city officiant to preside over the wedding ceremony, though there will also be a number of volunteers willing to do it for free.

Following the exchange of their vows, the couples then must file their marriage license free of charge with assessor staffers, who will be waiting in the light court, in order for it to be officially recorded. A certified copy will cost $14.

City staff is planning to work extended hours that day in order to process all of the couples' paperwork. The same forms created back in 2008 using non-gender specific language for the spouses will be reused.

"For the most part the documents are ready to go," said Chu, who has been sworn in to officiate marriages and plans to volunteer that day to marry any couple that asks. "We have been preparing internally ... we want to make sure it is as seamless as possible. It will be such a happy day for many folks, we think being ready is an important thing to do."

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