In Calif., New Weddings, Unanswered Questions

As thousands of same-sex couples get ready to marry in California on Monday, some questions remain unanswered. For one, what happens if California voters approve a constitutional ban on gay marriage this fall? Another: Are couples who wed in June still married in November?

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

Thousands of gay couples are getting married in California on Tuesday. That's the day same-sex marriage becomes legal in the biggest state in the country. But many of them are worried about November when California voters could overturn the ruling that legalized gay marriage. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: California is the most populous state, not the biggest.]

If that happens, it's not clear whether gay couples that marry this summer will still be legally hitched this fall. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Pat Alford Keating(ph) and her partner Shannon have had two commitment ceremonies, a reaffirmation of their vows, and a legal Oregon wedding that got repealed months after they tied the knot. So when Pat found out about a state Supreme Court ruling that would allow them to marry starting June 17th, she placed a call to Shannon who didn't get the message for hours.

Ms. SHANNON KEATING: I was actually traveling in New York when the opinion was announced and I was on a plane flying back to L.A. and as everybody does in L.A., turned on my phone and had a message and it was Pat in tears saying we won, we won.

BATES: The two have been together for almost 25 years. They've raised two children and are happily spoiling their three-month-old grandson Aidan(ph). Shannon Keating, an executive with Fox Television, says being legally able to marry her long-time love is bittersweet.

Ms. KEATING: It both gives us, you know, a moment of joy and thinking, okay, the tide is turning for us, but it also is a reminder that there's a lot of work that has to be done out there in advance of this November election.

BATES: That's because in November, conservative and religious groups that vehemently object to same sex marriages have collected enough signatures of registered voters to place an initiative on the ballot. It would amend the Constitution to limit marriage and its rights to heterosexual couples. Pat Keating, a psychologist at the University of Southern California is afraid California voters who are against her union with Shannon will get a lot of assistance from beyond the state's borders.

Ms. PAT KEATING: I'm really not sure why people feel so threatened, but they definitely do, and I fully expect there will be people with placards, et cetera. And I think it will be a tremendous fight and I agree that there will be money being poured in from all over the country to try to institute a Constitutional amendment.

Mr. GEORGE TAKEI (Actor): The campaign is going to be vitriolic. It's going to be intense. There's gonna be vilification of people.

BATES: If that voice sounds familiar, it's because it belongs to actor George Takei. He played Mr. Sulu on the '60s cult hit "Star Trek." Here's the line-up for his wedding.

Mr. TAKEI: Walter Koenig, who played Chekov, is the best man. And our matron of honor is Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, the chief communications officer. So there's that Star Trek content.

BATES: Since his work on Star Trek, Takei has been a passionate human and civil rights advocate. He and his partner Brad Altman have lived together happily for 21 years, and are planning a September wedding. They expect there will be a lot of public outcry when marriage between people of the same sex becomes legal.

But will marriages that occur before November be legal if the new initiative passes? Even legal scholars aren't sure. David Cruz teaches constitutional law at the University of California and is an expert in gender discrimination. Cruz says any combination of things could happen, but the move to amend the state constitution is pretty straightforward.

Professor DAVID CRUZ (University of California): In California, as in a number of other states, it only takes a majority vote of the people on an initiative that had enough signatures to qualify for the ballot to make a change to our basic legal order.

BATES: In the meanwhile, though, it's enough for many gay couples that they can finally take a step that's been denied to them for so long. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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