Clerk Stops Officiating After Gay Marriage Ruling

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Meet a dozen same-sex couples who rushed to marry in West Hollywood on the first day it was legally possible for them to do so. Jeremy and Claire Weiss hide caption

itoggle caption Jeremy and Claire Weiss

Hundreds of same-sex couples filed into county offices to get official marriage licenses Tuesday, the first full day the California Supreme Court's ruling overturning the ban on gay marriages went into effect. But in the city of Bakersfield, many are angry about the court's intervention, and most support a controversial move by the county clerk to stop performing all marriage ceremonies.

Kern County Clerk Ann Barnett announced that she would stop officiating any marriage ceremony just days after the Supreme Court ruled. Gays and lesbians cried foul. But Barnett, who isn't talking to the media, denied discrimination. In a news release, she cited financial reasons for her decision and retained counsel with a conservative Christian law firm.

Four years ago, when the gay marriage ban passed, 80 percent of voters here approved it. Recent statewide polls, however, show that support for the ban is losing ground.

Pastor Chad Vegas said Bakersfield is used to being out of step with the rest of California.

"I'm not particularly concerned what people in Hollywood or San Francisco think, because the fact is that the people in Hollywood and San Francisco probably aren't going to be the people who move to Bakersfield. And I think they ought to look to us to follow our lead, because we're right," Vegas said.

But County Supervisor Don Maben is worried about the city's reputation, which has long been the butt of jokes by late night comics. Johnny Carson loved to refer to locals here as "the hicks in the sticks." But beyond that, Maben said, cutting all marriage ceremonies hurts the poor in this large rural county.

"A lot of people can't afford to get down to the city to get married," Maben said. "They go down to county regional centers, and deputized individuals perform the ceremonies for them."

Maben said the clerk ended that practice, too. He hopes to get volunteers to perform low-cost marriage ceremonies.

Plenty of clergy showed up Tuesday outside the county clerk's Bakersfield office to perform free weddings for the dozens of same-sex couples holding their new licenses.

By noon, as temperatures reached the triple digits, the festivities quickly died down. Like most activities this time of year in Bakersfield, it's the sun that rules.

Sean Schoolcraft, who runs the popular Bakersfield Blaze minor league baseball team here, says their games can't start until the sun sets because of the sun being in the players' eyes.

At Monday night's Blaze game, the crowd was a bit thin, so Mary Kaufman didn't mind chatting about the controversy over gay marriages.

"I think a marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that's the law of the land, and that's the way I feel about it," she said.

Kaufman is angry that court judges overturned the will of the people. Sitting over home plate, Mike Jones agreed. He said voters will just have to amend the state constitution to make sure the ban sticks.

"It's just a waste of their time. They're all happy-go-lucky now, but come November, it's going to be a waste of time. Because the voters are going to have their say, and it's going to be nullified," Jones said.

A constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in California has garnered enough signatures and will be on this November's ballot.

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