Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Conservative legal firms yesterday filed a lawsuit in California Supreme Court seeking to stop San Francisco’s county clerk from issuing any more “marriage” licenses to same-sex couples.

If local officials can declare what is state law and what is not, “we would have complete chaos in the system,” said Robert Tyler, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).

San Francisco County Clerk Nancy Alfaro is the sole respondent of the lawsuit. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera yesterday said his office would be representing Miss Alfaro.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Barbara Lewis, Charles McIlhenny and Edward Mei, “three San Francisco taxpayers who object to blatant law-breaking at this high level of city and county government,” said the ADF, which is joined in the suit by the Center for Marriage Law in Milford, Conn., and Alamo, Calif.-based lawyer Terry L. Thompson.

These three parties have also been trying since Feb. 12 to get a California Superior Court judge to stop San Francisco city and county officials from issuing “marriage” licenses to same-sex couples.

Superior Court Judge James L. Warren instead gave the San Francisco officials a nonbinding “cease and desist” order and set another hearing on March 29.

San Francisco officials have already issued licenses to more than 3,200 same-sex couples and are issuing about 50 more every weekday.

Mr. Herrera said yesterday he would argue that the California high court was “not the proper venue” to argue whether state laws restricting marriage to men and women are constitutional. The ADF and its partners have also “made a wholly unconvincing case” that the case should go to the state Supreme Court, he said.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has said he will file legal papers tomorrow with the court to get an answer on whether San Francisco can issue “marriage” licenses to same-sex couples.

Benjamin Bull, chief counsel for ADF, said they filed yesterday’s lawsuit in the high court, in part, because they doubt Mr. Lockyer’s enthusiasm to uphold traditional marriage.

“The California attorney general has expressed political sympathy for the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses and simply cannot be trusted to defend state law,” said Mr. Bull.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a self-described “maverick” lawyer sued Broward County Clerk Howard Forman for not issuing “marriage” licenses to homosexual couples. “An idea whose time has come can never be stopped,” said Ellis Rubin, an attorney who said he represented 175 homosexual plaintiffs. “This idea’s time is now.”

Jacob DiPietre, a spokesman for Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, said: “We’ve had a law on the books in Florida since 1977 banning gay marriage and the governor took an oath of office to uphold the laws of the state.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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