California officials advised county clerks today that they should be prepared to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as June 17. But it remains doubtful the marriages will move forward at that point because of continuing legal hangups in the California Supreme Court.
The state Office of Vital Records said today it chose June 17 because the state Supreme Court's recent ruling legalizing gay marriage could be finalized as early as that date. Supreme Court rulings typically take effect 30 days after a decision, and the court issued its gay marriage ruling on May 15.
The state Office issued its advice to county clerks in the form of an e-mailed instructional letter, including a sample of what the new licenses and marriage certificates will look like.
"The new forms should be used by all the counties on the 17th, but we certainly recognize the court can take other actions between now and the 17th, and if that occurs, we will get additional guidance to the counties," said Suanne Buggy, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Public Health, which administers vital records.
The forms include lines for "Party A" and "Party B" instead of bride and groom.
The forms now await direction from the Supreme Court. A legal maneuver last week asking the justices to rehear the gay marriage case is likely to trigger a delay of another 30 to 60 days, superseding the June 17 date, according to top court officials.
Gay marriage opponents asked the Supreme Court to stay the ruling striking down the state's gay marriage ban until after the November election. Conservative groups have put together a ballot measure that would amend the state Constitution and again restrict marriage to heterosexual couples, and the initiative is widely expected to qualify for the November ballot.
The groups argue that staying the ruling would avoid legal chaos if gay couples across the state marry in the coming months, and the ballot measure is then approved by voters to outlaw same-sex marriage. Even if the Supreme Court denies the stay, the justices are expected to take extra time to consider the issue, increasing the likelihood that June gay weddings will have to be postponed.
San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who has led the legal challenge to the state's gay marriage ban, today filed opposition to the stay request in the Supreme Court. In court papers, Herrera argued that it would be "inhumane" to deny gay couples the right to marry until after the November election, given the Supreme Court's ruling and the uncertainty of the ballot outcome.