Gay Marriages Begin in California
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. A little later today, gay couples in California are going to start getting legally married. After 5:00 o'clock Pacific Time, a few counties will begin to issue marriage licenses - among them, the county and city of San Francisco. And joining us from San Francisco is NPR's Richard Gonzales. Richard, it's Mayor Gavin Newsome who said he's going to be performing one ceremony, I gather, this afternoon.
RICHARD GONZALES: That's correct, Melissa. Two longtime lesbian activists, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, will be wed by Mayor Newsome in his office at one minute past 5:00 o'clock local time. That's just as soon as the state Supreme Court's decision which legalizes same-sex marriage goes into effect. Now Martin and Lyon have been a couple for more than 50 years. Lyon is 83, Martin is 87, and they were the first couple married back in 2004. So it was their marriage, along with about 4,000 others, that set the stage for the legal battle that was finally resolved when the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.
BLOCK: And with that ruling, most of the weddings in California will be beginning tomorrow. What kind of plans are being made across the state to handle the logistics of all these couples who are expected to want to start getting married?
GONZALES: Tomorrow is a big day for all these couples. The city has said it will - city hall will stay open beyond its regular hours of operation, and it will also remain open on Saturday. City employees have been deputized to perform the ceremonies. Other counties around the state will be making similar accommodations. There are at least two counties - Butte and Kern Counties - that have already announced that they cannot handle the rush, or they just don't want to perform same-sex marriages. So those counties will issue marriage licenses, but officials won't perform ceremonies there.
BLOCK: Back in 2004 when the city of San Francisco started performing weddings for gay couples without the permission of the state, there were about 4,000 marriages performed at that time. Is there any projection of how many gay marriages there will be this time around?
GONZALES: No. We have no way of knowing how many couples will step forward this time. San Francisco city officials say that they can issue up to 250 marriage licenses and conduct up to 500 ceremonies each day. I should add that these will be individual ceremonies, that there will not be mass weddings. So what the mayor - Mayor Newsome and his aides are hoping to do is to promote the sense that this is all about people. They want to put of human face on this issue of gay marriage, so that these are committed couples who are getting married. And it's happening at a time when everyone that there is an initiative on the November ballot that would once again define marriage as a union only between a man and a woman. So a lot of people want to get married before that question now goes to the voters here in California. And the forces on both sides on this issue for and against same-sex marriage are gearing up and raising money for what promises to be a very major battle at the ballot box come November.
BLOCK: And it seems like there's a great deal of legal uncertainty, if that ballot measure passes in November, of what happens to any gay couples who've gotten married ahead of time.
GONZALES: Yes. If a ban on same-sex marriage is imposed by the voters - and it would only take a majority to do that - then we basically have a big mess on our hands. The voters can undo the Supreme Court's decision that allows these marriages. However, once these people are married, legal experts say another ban won't be applied retroactively.
BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Richard Gonzales in San Francisco. Thanks so much.
GONZALES: Thank you.