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San Mateo Daily Journal

 

February 05, 2007

 

By Michelle Durand

 

 

County clerk supports same-sex marriage bill

 

 

Two years ago, County Clerk Warren Slocum apologetically but firmly turned down a lesbian couple seeking a marriage license on Valentine’s Day.

 

Last year, Slocum stood outside his office with the San Carlos couple to voice his support but uphold the law.

 

This year, Slocum will still join Ramona, Arzu and Marina Gatto at the annual equality rally but is asking his peers statewide to help make it legal for him to marry the women.

 

“You have kept your oath of office ... and apologized for denying them the right to marry. I think there is a better way ...” Slocum wrote in a Jan. 11 letter to Alameda County Clerk Patrick O’Connell.

 

The same letter went to every county clerk, said Carol Marks, director of communications and special programs for Slocum’s office.

 

The letter is also copied to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a host of state and local leaders, some who plan to join Slocum and the Gattos at the Feb. 14 event.

Slocum urges O’Connell to support Assembly Bill 43, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which would grant clerks the authority to conduct marriages for same-sex couples.

 

Prior to 1977, the state recognized marriage as a civil contract between “two persons,” according to Slocum. In 1977, the County Clerks Association of California sponsored legislation to change the wording to “a man and a woman.”

 

“On the 30th anniversary of this law, I believe a replacement of this law is in order,” Slocum wrote.

 

Slocum was unavailable for comment but his stance is being heralded in the local LGBT community.

 

“People are talking about Warren like he is a rock star,” Ramona Gatto said. “He is a living example for our county and is providing a model for how other counties should embrace all their citizens.”

 

So far, Slocum’s letter has elicited support from the county clerks and registrars in Santa Cruz, Marin and Yolo counties, Marks said.

 

“Change starts in places where people stand up and say it’s time to change, Marks said.

 

Few realize the change as much as the Gatto family.

 

The couple first sought a county marriage license Feb. 11, 2004. After sitting in the lobby waiting to speak with Slocum, Deputy Clerk Teresa Rabe had to say no. Days later, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom made history by ordering the San Francisco County clerk to give licenses to gay couples and they headed up the Peninsula for the piece of paper.

 

The following year, they brought the San Francisco license back to Slocum’s office for another try. The only vow they were able to legally make was to keep asking for the same rights as heterosexual couples but the couple did meet with Slocum that time after hours of waiting to make a personal request. The 2005 quest also marked Supervisor Rich Gordon publicly announcing his personal support of a bill by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco — the openly gay supervisor’s first public stance on the matter.

 

Last year, the trip to Slocum’s office took yet another turn. Rather than watching other couples marry and waiting to be turned down, the couple organized an equality rally which included Slocum’s participation. Slocum again apologized for not being able to marry same-sex couples but did promise 17-year-old Marina Gatto he would not sit idly by if Leno’s bill was re-introduced to the state Legislature.

 

“I intend the next times a bill comes up to call on all 57 other marriage commissioners in the state and ask them to join us in this fight for equal rights,” Slocum told the assembled crowd.

 

On Jan. 11, with his stack of letters, Slocum kept his word.

 

“I am just so elated he is following through. This just shows that anything is possible, starting with the actions of just one child and the promise of just one person,” Marina Gatto said.

 

Like her mothers, Gatto said she couldn’t have foreseen three years ago the progress made but it bodes well for next year.

 

“Next year, I’m predicting marriage equality for all!” she said.

 

Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. What do you think of this story? Send a letter to the editor: letters@smdailyjournal.com.

 

Info box: The marriage equality gathering will be 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Feb. 14 on the front steps of 555 County Government Center.