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MercuryNews.com

 

June 12, 2008

 

By Mike Swift and Mary Anne Ostrom

 

 

This time, no rush to altar

 

 

About 60 volunteers trooped into the Santa Clara County offices Wednesday to be deputized to perform same-sex marriages. But many of those deputy marriage commissioners won't be needed Tuesday, the first day gay couples can marry in California.

 

Around the Bay Area, in Silicon Valley and even in San Francisco, county clerks are not seeing the same flood of gay and lesbian weddings that crowded San Francisco's City Hall when Mayor Gavin Newsom began performing same-sex weddings in February 2004. It's not a lack of interest, officials and gay couples say, but an awareness that the time pressure isn't so intense this time around.

 

"We're finding that a lot of people do not feel the urgent need to be married on the 17th," said Theresa Rabe, the deputy clerk-recorder in San Mateo County, where only four couples are slated to marry on Tuesday. "There is a great deal of interest in getting a license as soon as possible, but not necessarily in using it immediately."

 

Santa Clara County has about two dozen couples, both gay and straight, scheduled to marry at the county offices Tuesday. The First Unitarian Church of San Jose is inviting same-sex couples to be married there on June 17, but had received only two bookings as of Wednesday.

 

In San Francisco, the mayor's office said as of Tuesday, the county clerk had signed up 137 same-sex couples to get marriage licenses on June 17, and 80 appointments had been made for City Hall weddings that day, far below expectations. For all of next week, appointments for about 300 licenses and 220 weddings have been made.

 

The other two largest Bay Area counties, Alameda and Contra Costa, also have 20 or fewer couples booked to be married Tuesday.

 

In San Jose, Friday may well be the busiest day for same-sex weddings next week, said Regina Alcomendras, the clerk-recorder for Santa Clara County.

"What I'm anticipating is a steady, heavy flow" through next week and into the summer, Alcomendras said.

 

Newsom's role

 

In 2004, after Newsom created a national sensation by deciding to marry gay and lesbian couples, more than 4,000 couples obtained marriage licenses in San Francisco between Feb. 12 and March 11. Couples from all but four states created a demand so intense that numerous couples arrived before dawn and waited for hours outside city hall.

 

This time, with no apparent legal obstacle before the November initiative vote on a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, there simply is not the same rush. Starting on June 17, San Francisco had prepared to handle 250 licenses a day and 500 ceremonies. Though the city's morning appointments are fully booked for the first day on Tuesday, most time slots are still available in the afternoon.

 

"I think a lot of people recognize they have the right to marry and it can't be taken away, so there is no reason to rush," said Giselle Barry, a spokeswoman for Newsom.

 

Many gay couples are optimistic the constitutional prohibition will fail in November, and believe that when weddings start it may actually help their cause, said Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager. Yeager, who became the county's first openly gay elected official in 1992, will officiate at the first two same-sex weddings at the county offices Tuesday morning.

 

"Everybody knows they can wait at least until November - and I'm assuming longer than that - if you want to make it a really special occasion, invite people, and have time to really plan it," Yeager said.

 

Based on the calls she is getting in San Mateo County, including many from out-of-state couples, Rabe said there is "ongoing and constant interest" from same-sex couples and that "we might see more of a swarm of marriages in the late summer or early fall, before the November election."

 

Swearing-in

 

And in Santa Clara County, Alcomendras said she may well need the services of all the men and women who pledged to "defend and support" the constitutions of the United States and California, as they were sworn in Wednesday as deputy marriage commissioners.

 

There was palpable emotion as the group first took the oath, and then erupted into cheers. While predominantly women, the group spanned a range of ages and races. Some identified as gay or lesbian, but others said they just wanted to be part of what they view as a civil rights milestone.

 

"I think this is one of the most significant historical events of my lifetime," said Nancy Reagan, a 63-year-old retired management consultant from Santa Clara. "I think this changes the whole country."

 

Tony Cefalo, a retired tech executive from San Jose, talked to his wife before volunteering.

 

"If people want to get married, that's cool," said Cefalo, who attributed his outlook to being "a child of the '60s." "I happen to have been married - twice actually - so from my perspective it's just another volunteer opportunity."

 

Contact Mike Swift at mswift@mercurynews.com or (408) 271-3648.