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820 More Same-Sex Couples Wed

Times Staff Writer

More than 800 gay and lesbian couples -- some of whom waited all night outside City Hall because a court today could put a halt to the city’s government-sanctioned same-sex marriages -- wed here Monday as volunteers sang, tap danced and even handed out wedding cakes.

By day’s end, the number of same-sex unions recorded since Mayor Gavin Newsom directed city officials to begin issuing the modified licenses on Thursday had risen to more than 2,400.

Hundreds of volunteers -- including workers from nearly every city department and dozens of Bay Area residents -- spent Presidents Day weekend at City Hall to help shepherd couples through the process.

“If you see someone with a volunteer sticker, give them a hug, because that’s all they’re going to get today,” said a weary yet beaming City Assessor Mabel Teng, who has overseen the unions since Thursday.

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To tearful shouts of “We love you, Mabel,” Teng outlined her staff’s efforts to conduct a record-breaking number of marriages. Deputy Assessor-Recorder Minna Tao stayed up most of Sunday night reprogramming computers that normally perform property valuations so they could process the marriages. The modification enabled city staff to increase the number of recorded unions from 485 on Saturday and 487 on Sunday to 820 on Monday.

Teng stressed that all city employees working extra shifts through the weekend -- including her -- were volunteering “out of love and commitment to equal rights.” The employees worked without pay to ensure that Newsom’s move would not harm the city financially as it faces a record budget deficit, she said.

“We are just honored that we are able to serve you without draining an additional dime from our city coffers,” Teng said. “We need to protect that money for important city services.”

Addressing the couples at a midday news conference, Teng thanked them “for bringing so much love to City Hall.” She also announced the city would cap the day’s marriages at 650. But to city officials’ surprise, they had processed 820 by 8 p.m. City Hall opens at 8 a.m. today. Teng said the city would process licenses on a first come-first serve basis “until I personally hear from City Atty. Dennis Hererra” that an injunction has been issued. City officials said they’ll return to regular staffing levels and don’t expect to process more than 50 licenses today.

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The Alliance Defense Fund filed a complaint Friday seeking a court-ordered halt to the marriages and was ordered back to Superior Court this afternoon. Attorneys for the Arizona-based group filed briefs Monday, as instructed by Judge James L. Warren, contending that California law must be enforced -- even if it is unconstitutional -- until an appellate court states otherwise.

“The mayor is breaking the law,” Alliance spokesman Rich Jefferson said. California law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The newly elected mayor ordered marriage licenses amended to allow same-sex unions, stating that to do otherwise would violate the equal protection clause of the California Constitution.

The Campaign for California Families also is expecting to appear in court today seeking a separate injunction to stop the marriages. In addition to injunctions, the groups seek to invalidate the existing marriages.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal plan to file motions today to intervene in the cases on the city’s behalf.

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The legal implications of the marriages -- and the legal fight -- were not lost on many couples here. Jackie Kiang, 34, a third-year medical resident, said she realizes that if she “dies tomorrow,” spouse Olivia Higgins, 29, would be saddled with her medical school debt and likely forced into bankruptcy. But the couple, who wed Friday and returned Monday with coffee and cookies, said they welcomed the constraints as well as the benefits. The same goes for the uncertainty of the coming legal showdown -- and the near certainty of a nationwide political backlash.

“People are always going to be working against us,” Kiang said.

Many couples spent a soggy Sunday night camped out in line after failing to get in the doors of City Hall. As drizzle turned to downpour, they caught just a few winks of sleep under blankets and tarps.

On the hour throughout the night, volunteers worked the line that snaked around this city’s domed and gilded seat of government, offering coffee, cookies and doughnuts to rain-drenched couples. Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) showed up at 10:30 p.m. with grilled chicken and vegetable kebobs.

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While a small group of Muslim protesters demonstrated outside City Hall on Sunday with signs condemning the unions, no opposition was in sight Monday. City officials urged people to refrain from camping out at City Hall “in the interest of public safety.”

About 85% of the couples united since Thursday have hailed from the greater Bay Area, Teng said. But others came from as far as New York, Florida, Minnesota and Georgia. Four couples traveled internationally to wed here -- from New Zealand, Thailand, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Still, hundreds were turned away after waiting through the weekend.

John Wullbrandt, 52, and Jean-Claude Rivalland, 53, drove to San Francisco late Sunday from their ranch outside Santa Barbara, hoping to wed after 20 years together. But they were so far back in the line they weren’t likely to make the cut. Coming back today was out of the question since they needed to return home. But the disappointed couple took the long view.

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“We’ve waited 20 years,” Wullbrandt said. “We’re willing to wait however long it takes.”


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