Will San Francisco Beat Boston?

In surprise move, new mayor orders marriage licenses

If he goes through with his plan, it will be a race to see if America’s first same-sex marriages are in Massachusetts, or in the sovereign state of San Francisco.

The 36-year old mayor announced his plans February 10 and even though gay marriage foes amended California’s codes in 2000 to say that marriage is between a man and a woman, Newsom is going ahead anyway and has asked the city’s attorneys to change San Francisco’s marriage license application forms so same sex couples can apply.

Newsom is arguing that his in-your-face move is legal, because he says not to marry gays is discriminatory, and that the state’s constitution contains an equal protection clause.

“There is no rationale for discrimination against any individuals in California,” Newsom said.

But his surprise announcement has sent the city’s attorneys, who heard about the plan the day the mayor went public with it, scrambling to find a legal defense for his move.

“It’s more complicated than you might think,” was about as far as Terry Stuart, the lead city attorney assigned to the case, was willing to go. “But what if there were state laws that said black people couldn’t marry white people, would local county clerks have to refuse to grant marriage licenses?” she added.

One thing that is just about certain is that if Newsom goes through with it, the city will face lawsuits over his action. “Suits?” Stuart asked and then chuckled in the same way a prizefighter about to go into the ring might when asked if a little political blood might get spilled. “The probability of that seems high,” said Stuart.

So what should the couples who get married do with their new marriage certificates? “Don’t rely on them,” Stuart said, paused and then went on, “as something that will cause everybody to treat you as if you’re married, especially at the federal level.” She expects that any prospective lawsuits will end up in the highest courts of the state’s judiciary and will take years to resolve.

Newsom’s move comes just two days before San Francisco’s gay state Assemblymember, Mark Leno, will formally introduce a bill to make gay marriage the law throughout the entire state. Leno argued that the initiative passed in 2000 limiting marriage to the union of one man and one woman only covers unions sanctioned outside of California. The prohibition doesn’t apply to states of wedded bliss made in the Golden State, he said.

But the strongest advocates of Leno’s bill––Geoff Kors, the head of California’s gay lobby, gay Santa Cruz Assemblymember John Laird, one of five out gay and lesbian legislators, and even Leno himself––doubt the bill will make it much further than the Assembly’s judiciary committee. But they say they’ll consider even that a victory. If they get that far, California will be the first state where a gay marriage bill has made it out of committee without a court’s intervention.

“You have to start somewhere,” said Laird.

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