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For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday February 14, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
San Francisco wedding -- A photograph in Friday's A section showing Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who were married Thursday in San Francisco, was incorrectly credited to Associated Press. It was taken by Liz Mangelsdorf of the San Francisco Chronicle.
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This bastion of gay rights issued the first same-sex marriage licenses in the nation Thursday, beginning with a lesbian couple whose marriage pushed the city into the center of an intensifying national debate and promised a legal showdown.
Sporting turquoise and lavender pantsuits, Del Martin, 83, and Phyllis Lyon, 79, were pronounced "spouses for life" by City and County Assessor Mabel Teng after city staff members spent a sleepless night and a harried morning altering license forms to rid them of references to "bride" and "groom."
The move came just two days after newly elected Mayor Gavin Newsom vowed to issue the same-sex licenses and directed the clerk to change the forms.
California law defines marriage as a "personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman." Voters in 2000 also approved Proposition 22, which was incorporated into law and states that only marriages between men and women are valid or recognized in California.
In changing San Francisco's marriage licenses, Newsom is flouting those statutes. But he said the equal protection clause of the California Constitution preempts those laws.
While gay rights activists celebrated the day as historic, opponents denounced it as mutinous. A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the governor supported "current domestic partner laws" but believed marriage is "between a man and a woman."
Within hours of the first union, dozens of gay and lesbian couples had streamed through the doors of San Francisco City Hall to wed. At least five city workers were deputized to administer the oath of marriage, and they did so to hoots and hollers in the assessor's ornate lobby. Some of the newlyweds wore bridal gowns. One male couple arrived in matching purple and white striped shirts.
"It's beautiful," said a tearful Davina Kotulski, 34, who said she had unsuccessfully sought a marriage license with her partner, 33-year-old Molly McKay, for five years. "I'm so grateful to people who are opening their hearts and taking this seriously. I love this woman. I want to be married to her. It's the most important thing in my life."
Newsom's move puts the city in the forefront of the political storm over gay marriage. In Massachusetts this week, lawmakers debated a state constitutional amendment that could ban gay marriages. The session followed a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that gays must be guaranteed the benefits of marriage.
Even before San Francisco began issuing licenses, opponents had prepared a legal challenge. But by issuing the licenses before a legal challenge could be filed, city officials changed the nature of the legal fight.
"The horse is out of the barn," said Jon Davidson, senior counsel for the gay civil rights group Lambda Legal, which, along with others, had offered free legal services to the city to help defend its position. "We now have same-sex couples who have married and have marriage licenses."
A group called the Campaign for California Families plans to go to court today to seek an injunction against Newsom and County Clerk Nancy Alfaro to stop the unions. The suit accuses San Francisco officials of unlawfully altering California's Family Code.
Matthew Staver, president of the Liberty Counsel, which is litigating the case, issued a statement Thursday denouncing Newsom's "utter disregard for the law of California." The group probably won't receive a hearing on the matter until at least Tuesday, said Richard Ackerman, an attorney who is assisting the Florida-based center.
"These so-called marriage licenses are not worth the paper they are written on," Staver said. "The court will void this publicity stunt. Mayor Newsom has no more right to do what he is doing than he does to secede the state of California from the Union."
University of Santa Clara law professor Gerald Uelman, an expert on the state Constitution and the California Supreme Court, said San Francisco was on shaky legal ground.