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MercuryNews.com

 

June 13, 2008

 

By Amanda Fehd

 

 

Clerks prepare for busy week of same-sex marriages

 

 

SAN FRANCISCO—City worker Eileen Shields usually spends her days answering questions about West Nile Virus, bed bugs and other health concerns, but next week she'll be one of hundreds of volunteers at City Hall helping same-sex couples tie the knot.

 

Shields, who works in the communications office at the city's Department of Public Health, was inspired to help pronounce couples "spouses for life" because her daughter married a woman in Massachusetts last year and she wanted to help others share the same joy.

 

"Those are powerful words and it's a very solemn responsibility," said Shields, who is volunteering on her own time.

 

On Monday, California is due to become the second state to allow gays to marry, and county officials statewide are preparing for an expected flood of weddings over the next several weeks. To help absorb the crowds, they are adding staff, extending hours and training and deputizing hundreds of volunteer marriage commissioners.

 

San Francisco expects to have trained more than 200 volunteer commissioners, most of them city staff, to help marry same-sex couples. In San Diego County, more than 50 workers from other departments within the clerk-recorder's office have volunteered to issue licenses and to keep up with demand. In Los Angeles County, about 100 people have been deputized over the past two weeks to perform nuptials.

 

"We're expecting a crush of newlyweds," said Mayor Jeffrey Prang of West Hollywood, where five city council members are expected to be deputized Monday night so they can start performing ceremonies the next morning.

 

Barring any further legal action, gay couples will be able to start marrying at 5:01 p.m. Monday, when a California Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriages goes into effect. Some counties plan to open their clerk's offices after-hours that day to accommodate couples wanting to be among the first to marry, but most across the state will wait until Tuesday.

 

Once the ruling goes into effect, officials are required to issue gender-neutral marriage licenses, but they are not required to perform ceremonies.

Officials in Kern, Calaveras and Butte counties say they'll stop performing weddings for all couples because, among other reasons, the increased demand would overwhelm their staffs.

 

"We've done them when we can," said Karen Varni, the clerk-recorder in Calaveras County. "They've been squeezed into other things, and due to budget restraints in our county and no actual place to do them, we're not set up to do them."

 

She said they had considered stopping them before the May 15 court decision, but then decided it was necessary with the expected increase.

 

Kern County Clerk Ann Barnett also said the increased demand for ceremonies would be too much for her staff and pose office security risks. She made the announcement last week after learning she could not marry only couples of her choosing.

 

In some counties, sympathetic clergy are stepping in to help out.

 

At the Redwood City clerk's office Tuesday, the minister from Peninsula Metropolitan Community Church will officiate same-sex weddings.

 

Officials all over the state are reporting an uptick in requests for marriage licenses. As of Friday, Orange County had more than 50 appointments scheduled for Tuesday, when it usually averages about 30 appointments per day, said Jean Pasco, the spokeswoman for the Orange County clerk-recorder's office.

 

San Bernardino County reported about 35 ceremonies scheduled for Tuesday, significantly more than it usually has, said Larry Walker, the county's auditor-controller-recorder.

 

Some smaller counties said so far they had not been inundated.

 

Donna Johnston, clerk-recorder for Sutter County, said that by Friday evening no same-sex couples had scheduled ceremonies next week, though a few people have called with questions.

 

"This is a fairly conservative county and we haven't had much interest at this point," Johnston said.

 

San Mateo County Deputy Assessor County Clerk-Recorder Theresa Rabe said she expects the real rush will come later.

 

"I expect a steady stream all summer," she said.

 

Associated Press writers Malia Wollan and Evelyn Nieves in San Francisco, Jordan Robertson in San Jose, Steve Lawrence in Sacramento, Laura Davis in Los Angeles, and Allison Hoffman in San Diego contributed to this report.