Judge leaves San Francisco gay marriage intact for now
DAVID KRAVETS and LISA LEFF, AP Press Writers, February 17. 2004
SAN FRANCISCO, (AP) -- Conservatives went to court Tuesday and argued that San Francisco flagrantly violated the constitution by issuing same-sex marriage licenses, but wedding bells continued to ring for dozens more gay couples.
A judge in one case delayed until at least Friday a ruling on whether to block the marriages -- more than 2,300 of which have taken place since last Thursday. Another judge was scheduled to hear a similar case in the afternoon.
Newly elected Mayor Gavin Newsom's decision to allow same-sex marriages remains legally unsettled but has intensified the national debate over whether gay couples should be allowed to marry.
Conservative groups want to block new licenses and revoke those already issued. They note that California voters in 2000 expressly limited marriages recognized in the state to unions between a man and a woman.
San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay told lawyers for the Campaign for California Families that they had not given the city enough notice to obtain an emergency injunction.
"The court itself is not prepared to hear the matter," Quidachay said in a heavily crowded courtroom across the street from City Hall, where hundreds have lined up for the marriage certificates.
A similar request for an emergency stay filed by another group, the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, was to be taken up at the afternoon hearing.
Peter Ragone, a spokesman for the mayor, said the city would continue issuing licenses until it knew the outcome of the second court hearing.
Campaign for California Families said state law explicitly defines marriage as "a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman."
"If the mayor can't read the law, we're hoping a judge can read it for him," said Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for California Families.
Newsom has argued that the equal protection clause of the California Constitution makes denying marriage licenses to gay couples illegal.
"What trumps any proposition is the California constitution," said City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
Whatever the outcome of Tuesday's hearings, the final judicial decision on the matter is expected to come later from the California Supreme Court, because both sides have promised to appeal.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in November ruled that the state's constitution permits gay marriages. Lawmakers there are debating a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.
In Virginia, gay rights proponents scored victories in the conservative-leaning House of Delegates on measures involving access to health insurance and home loans.
The House, which last week passed a bill reaffirming the state's ban on gay marriage, narrowly passed legislation Monday that would allow employers to offer group insurance benefits to gay partners who live together. It rejected a measure seeking to make state mortgage loans available only to married heterosexuals or blood relatives.
By Monday night, 2,340 same-sex couples had taken their vows at San Francisco's ornate City Hall since the county clerk started issuing "gender-neutral" marriage licenses last week.
After a weekend rush in which many city workers volunteered to help issue hundreds of licenses a day, the rate of marriages was expected to drop off to roughly 50 a day beginning Tuesday.
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