Capitol Alert: Jerry Brown tells California counties to issue gay marriage licenses

dsiders@sacbee.comJune 26, 2013 

In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling undercutting California's same-sex marriage ban, the Brown administration told county officials this morning the ruling applies statewide - with all 58 counties required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once a lower court stay is lifted.

"After years of struggle, the U.S. Supreme Court today has made same-sex marriage a reality in California," the Democratic governor said in a prepared statement. "In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state's counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted."

In a letter to county clerks and records, the Department of Public Health said "same-sex couples will once again be allowed to marry in California." However, the letter cautioned clerks, in bold type, to issue no marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a stay is lifted by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We do not know when the Ninth Circuit will issue this order, but it could take a month or more," the letter said. "County clerks and recorders should not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until this order is issued."

More than 18,000 same-sex marriage licenses were issued in California before voters passed Proposition 8 in 2008. The measure was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker in 2010, a decision the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld. However, same-sex marriages have been on hold while proponents of the initiative appealed.

Proponents of Proposition 8 vowed to continue defending the measure.

In a prepared statement, Folsom lawyer Andy Pugno, the proposition's author, said the Supreme Court's ruling "does not directly resolve questions about the scope of the trial court's order" and that "we will continue to defend Prop. 8 and seek its enforcement until such time as there is a binding statewide order that renders Prop. 8 unenforceable."

In a 5-4 decision this morning, the Supreme Court ruled the supporters of Prop. 8 lacked legal standing to defend the measure.

Brown, declined to defend Proposition 8 in court, had been preparing for the Supreme Court's eventual ruling weeks ago, asking Attorney General Kamala Harris for a legal opinion about the scope of the decision.

In a June 3 letter to Brown, Harris said such an order would apply statewide.

"Under the circumstances of this case, we conclude that the injunction would apply statewide to all 58 counties," she wrote. "We further conclude that DPH can and should instruct county officials that when the district court's injunction goes into effect, they must resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same-sex couples."

Although such an order as the Supreme Court issued would "not expressly require state officials to direct counties to issue marriage licenses," Harris wrote, to do so is within the administration's authority and "necessary to avoid confusion and ensure uniform application of the state's marriage laws."

PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at a news conference at the Capitol on Jan. 10, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton

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