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Merced County will issue gay marriage licenses beginning June 17

Barring a stay of a historic California Supreme Court ruling, same-sex couples will be able to wed in the state beginning June 17, according to a state directive issued Wednesday.

Merced County Auditor and Clerk Stephen Jones said his office will comply with the state's directive.

Le Grand resident Christina Borges, 30, said she and her fiance, Benita Martinez, will be the first ones in line for a license in Merced on June 17. The couple is planning an Aug. 2 wedding.

"We want to do it the very first day because we feel like this is history-making," Borges said. "It's really exciting for us."

The state Office of Vital Records said it chose June 17 because the state Supreme Court has until the close of business on June 16 to decide whether to grant a stay of its ruling legalizing gay marriage.

But a group opposed to gay marriage has asked the court to stay its decision until after the November election, when voters are likely to face a ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Passage of the initiative would overrule the Supreme Court.

Under the court's regular rules of procedure, justices have until the end of the day on June 16 to rule on the stay request, according to the memo sent by e-mail to the state's 58 county clerks. Lawyers involved in the marriage case have said the court could grant itself an extra 60 days to consider the stay.

"If nothing has changed by the 17th — if there are no stays or injunctions -- we'll begin issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples that day," Jones said Wednesday.

Borges said she and other marriage equality activists are also planning a rally for the 17th outside the county clerk's office at the Merced County Administration Building on M Street. "The fight isn't over," Borges said. "There are still challenges and we want to get people together now to show their support for marriage equality."

The guidelines from Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health, also contain copies of new marriage forms that have lines for "Party A" and "Party B" where bride and groom used to be. The gender-neutral nomenclature was developed in consultation with county clerks, according to the memo.

"Effective June 17, 2008, only the enclosed new forms may be issued for the issuance of marriage licenses in California," the directive reads.

The amended forms also contain a change to accommodate same-sex couples who already have registered as domestic partners, a category created in 2003 that bestowed the legal rights and benefits of marriage to gay men and lesbians without the title.

The previous marriage license applications stated that people in domestic partnerships were barred from getting married, a prohibition based on the fact that same-sex couples could not legally wed. The new forms say domestic partners don't have to dissolve their partnerships if they are marrying the same person.

The guidelines were sent out on the same day a poll was published showing that more California voters now support allowing same-sex marriage than oppose it.

The results marked the first time in over three decades of Field Poll surveys that a majority of voters approved of extending marriage to gay couples than have disapproved, said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo."I would say this is a historic turning point or milestone," DiCamillo said.

The poll found that 51 percent of respondents backed legalizing same-sex marriage and 42 percent opposed it, DiCamillo said.

Field Poll surveyed 1,052 registered voters over the phone from May 17-26, in the days after the Supreme Court handed down its historic ruling. A smaller percentage of respondants — 48 percent — said they agreed with the court's decision and 46 percent disagreed.

DiCamillo said the jump in support for same-sex marriage indicates that voters were "influenced in some way by the judgment of the high court."

The Field Poll's findings conflict with a Los Angeles Times/KTLA poll of 705 voters released last week that found 54 percent backed the proposed gay marriage ban and 35 percent opposed it. The Field Poll survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points on the general amendment question, and plus or minus 5 percentage points on the more specific question.

Andrew Pugno, legal adviser for the coalition of religious and social conservative groups sponsoring the measure, said the Times poll is more consistent with his group's internal polling.

"We could acknowledge there has been increasing acceptance of the idea of gay relationships over the last 10 or 20 years, but we think when it comes to marriage there is still a solid majority who want to see it reserved for a man and a woman," Pugno said.