- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A conservative legal group asked the California Supreme Court yesterday to put off finalization of its decision legalizing same-sex marriage until voters got a chance to weigh in.

The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund wants the ruling stayed until November, when voters will probably see a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution against gay marriage, thus overturning the justices’ ruling.

In court papers submitted late yesterday, the group warned that the state would suffer “great public harm and mischief” if it began allowing same-sex marriages June 16, when the court’s decision would ordinarily become final.

Defense Fund attorneys also said implementing the ruling in the meantime would be an unnecessary expense for the state and cause unneeded confusion for couples.

“Permitting this decision to take effect immediately - in light of the realistic possibility that the people of California might amend their constitution to reaffirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman - risks legal havoc and uncertainty of immeasurable magnitude,” the attorneys wrote in the petition.

Many couples started planning weddings and making appointments to secure marriage licenses immediately after the justices overturned the state’s existing marriage law on May 15. Unlike Massachusetts, California has no residency requirement for obtaining a license. That means the state could become a magnet for gay people nationwide eager to be united in wedlock.

But a coalition of religious and social conservative groups is in the process of putting a measure on the November ballot that would write a gay marriage ban into the state constitution.

County clerks have until June 18 to verify the signatures needed to qualify the amendment for the election, according to the Defense Fund. A preliminary count by 37 counties indicates that the initiative has a high chance of being put to voters, the group said in its petition.

Defense Fund attorneys asked the Supreme Court to hold a hearing on when its decision should take effect or to amend it to prevent it from being implemented for now.

Among the logistical nightmares the attorneys predicted are counties scheduling different start dates depending on their ability to create new, sex-neutral marriage licenses and the question of whether marriages sanctioned during the five-month window would be annulled if the amendment passes.

The court majority did not give a deadline for county clerks to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But it directed state officials “to take all actions necessary to effectuate our ruling, including requiring county marriage clerks to carry out their duties in a manner consistent with the decision of this court.”

Thousands of same-sex couples are expected to flock to the state next month to wed. But typically it takes the state months to churn out new forms.

Kate Kendell, executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said she is not particularly worried.

“This is where you don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good,” she said. “If people can marry and those marriages are legally recognized in compliance with the court ruling … the t’s crossed and i’s dotted on the form are the least of our concerns.”

The justices have until June 18 to consider the Defense Fund’s petition, said Jennifer Pizer, an attorney with the gay rights legal group Lambda Legal. They also could grant themselves an additional 60 days to assess it, Ms. Pizer said.