Less than an hour after a federal judge overturned Proposition 8's ban on gay marriage, Lena Wheeler of Modesto was at the county clerk's office, hoping to get a license to marry her partner, Alicia Williams.
"Last time it was legal, I didn't want to rush out and do this. I wanted it to be a special day," Wheeler said. "Then Prop. 8 happened, and we missed our chance. So we said if it ever happened again, we would get married first and have a ceremony later."
They may have to wait a while.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker put his ruling on hold until at least Friday while he considers whether to stay his decision until it goes through the appeal process.
Wheeler, 36, and Williams, 32, hope he doesn't issue a stay. They'd like to get married Saturday, their five-year anniversary.
In 2008, 52 percent of California voters who cast a ballot passed Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages. In Stanislaus County, as with much of the more conservative Central Valley, the margin was larger — 68 percent in favor of the ban and 32 percent opposed. Percentages were similar in Merced and San Joaquin counties.
Meanwhile, individuals and faith leaders in the Modesto area show no sign of finding common ground on the issue. Those who favor gay marriage were delighted by Wednesday's ruling; those who oppose it hope the decision will be overturned on appeal.
The Rev. Grace Simons of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County officiated at the first same-sex marriage in Modesto in 2008.
"It's always been my position that equal treatment before the law means that all loving couples should be able to marry if they want to, and have the legal benefits of that," she said.
Marian Martino, a business owner and longtime Modesto resident, agreed.
"I'm very pleased," she said. "The judge felt there was no rational or credible reason to prevent people from marrying. We live in a democracy. It's not just a democracy; it's a constitutional democracy. Our rights shouldn't be divvied up based on a popularity contest. The law can't treat people differently based on who we love."
The Rev. Michael Schiefelbein, pastor of College Avenue United Church of Christ in Modesto, married his partner, Steve Klinkerman, in Toronto in 2005. He said the ruling is "an affirmation of a civil right that fosters commitment and protects all families.
"Our congregation celebrates marriages that take place in our church as sacred covenants blessed by God within a community of faith," Schiefelbein said.
'Meaning of marriage'
Those who oppose gay marriage were disappointed Wednesday.
Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Catholic Diocese of Stockton was out of town, but the diocese released a statement from Edward E. Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference: "Homosexuals certainly have every right to the love, companionship and support of another person, but the courts do not have a right to distort the meaning of marriage."
Wade Estes, senior pastor at CrossPoint Community Church in Modesto, was active in the campaign for Proposition 8 in 2008.
"This is going to continue to be a hotly debated issue until it goes before the U.S. Supreme Court," he said. "Those who believe the Bible is God's word, and what he communicates is out of love and for our good, will continue to see homosexuality as contrary to the will of God."
The Rev. Joseph Illo, pastor at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Modesto, said: "The people of California must be disheartened by this ruling for two reasons. First, one judge overturning the people's constitutional amendment is a grave offense to democracy and the legal system. Second, a minority is seeking to redefine an essential social institution to suit their special interests."
The Rev. Ron Youngdale, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Turlock, agreed.
"Marriage by biblical definition is the uniting of two people of the opposite sex as husband and wife," he said. "Historically, that definition has been accepted by society as well.
"The Christian church has entrusted the task of licensing marriages to the state, but it has not forfeited its right to maintain the definition of marriage. Judge Walker's ruling is an attempt ... to force a moral ruling on society as well as usurp the role of the church and the will of the people."
Then there's Rabbi Larry Moldo of Congregation Beth Shalom, which belongs to the Conservative branch of Judaism. Its ruling body has come down squarely on both sides of the issue of gay marriage, Moldo said.
Moldo wasn't living in California at the time of the divisive Proposition 8 campaign and said he doesn't really understand the furor.
The issue hasn't come up in his short tenure in Modesto, he said. If it did, he explained, "I'd recommend that people wait until it goes through all of the appeals."
But, he added: "God willing, there will be some weddings in general coming up. I'm not concerning myself as to weddings between who and who. Any wedding is more fun than a funeral."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.