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Merced County to marry gay couples

Le Grand resident Christina Borges spent Thursday looking at wedding dresses.

Although some of the dresses Borges viewed may have been traditional, her upcoming wedding day will probably be anything but ordinary.

“I’ve got (the dresses) narrowed down to a couple possibilities,” Borges beamed.

Borges, 30, and her partner Betina Martinez, 42, are one of a handful of gay couples in Merced County who are planning on tying the knot, following a Thursday decision by the California Supreme Court which lifted a ban on gay marriage.

The court voted 4-3 in favor of gay marriage rights, stating in its 121-page majority opinion that state law cannot deprive gays and lesbians the same rights as other citizens.

The implications of the court’s decision are already being felt in Merced County. M. Stephen Jones, Merced County Clerk, said Friday that his office will comply with state law and issue marriage licenses to gay couples — although that is not going to happen overnight.Jones it will probably be at least 30 days before gay couples can receive a marriage licence in Merced County, due to numerous factors. After the court issues a writ of mandate, the state will have to modify any legal forms and regulations pertaining to issuance marriage licenses.

“We will follow the law,” Jones said. “I would have no authority to change either the regulations or the legal forms which people sign.”Jones said he received a few phone inquiries about the gay marriage issue on Thursday, although no gay couples have showed up at his office requesting marriage licenses this week. “At this point we’re telling them that they can’t do it yet,” Jones said.

Borges and other members of Merced County’s gay community expressed cautious optimism over the state supreme court’s decision. While many said they are pleased the court decided in their favor, they are also concerned about a proposed ballot initiative that would ban gay marriage by amending California’s constitution.

A coalition of groups called Protect Marriage claims to have collected more than 1.1 million signatures in support of the initiative to ban gay marriage. In response, a coalition of gay rights groups has also launched a counter-campaign geared to keep voters from supporting the proposed amendment.

Eileen Vidales, president of Merced PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) said although she is excited about court’s decision, she believes gays need to remain vigilant in fighting the proposed constitutional amendment. “It’s still not over,” Vidales said. “They are really close to having enough signatures to go on the ballot.”

Several Merced County residents who are opposed the gay marriage, however, said they are appalled by the state supreme court’s decision.

Merced resident Babara Carter, 49, said she will do “anything she can” to support the initiative banning gay marriage. Carter, a self described proud “mother of four” children, was one of several residents who called the Sun-Star to register her displeasure about a photograph that ran on the cover of Thursday’s paper, which showed two men kissing. The photo ran with a story about the court decision.

“It’s OK for people to live the way they want to, but don’t put it in my face,” Carter said. Carter said she also disagrees with her tax dollars being used to support any benefits for married gay couples. “It is an abomination. That’s what (the Bible) says,” she added.

In the meantime, Borges said she will continue thinking about her upcoming wedding. “We are waiting and keeping our fingers crossed that nothing else happens that will screw it up,” she said.

The initiative to ban gay marriage needs 694,354 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star or vpatton@mercedsun-sta

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