With gay marriage set to begin in California on Monday, The Times is answering readers' questions on the subject. You can submit questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out full coverage of the debate about the gay marriage issue at latimes.com/gaymarriage. Here is a sampling:
When will same-sex couples be allowed to marry?
The earliest time gay couples will be allowed to marry is at 5:01 p.m. Monday, June 16. Alameda, Sonoma and Yolo counties will begin issuing marriage licenses to the public Monday night; most counties will start Tuesday morning. San Francisco and Los Angeles counties will issue one marriage license each Monday night to a designated couple to commemorate the ruling.
Who will be the first same-sex couple to marry in L.A. County?
Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, who on Valentine's Day 2004 were denied a marriage license at the Beverly Hills Courthouse and challenged that rejection all the way to the California Supreme Court. Their license, to be issued in Beverly Hills, was given an exception "in recognition of their unique role in the court's decision," said acting Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean C. Logan.
Could any further legal action delay the start of same-sex marriages in California?
Opponents of same-sex marriage asked the California Court of Appeal on Thursday to put the ruling on hold. Supporters of gay marriage rights quickly belittled the action as frivolous and certain to fail. The lower 1st District Court of Appeal, which had ruled 2 to 1 against same-sex marriage, is bound by the Supreme Court's decision. San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera, whose office helped litigate the marriage case, called the petition "beyond frivolous . . . absurd." But Liberty Counsel, the group that filed the petition, said the Court of Appeal procedurally regains the case June 16 and could issue a stay. "This court should stay the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples to prevent a violation of federal and state law by opening the door to de facto polygamy and polyamory," the petition by the Christian-affiliated group said.
How do I and my partner apply for the marriage license and find someone to perform the ceremony? -- Larry and Lee, Las Vegas
You need to go to a county clerk's office with photo identification, fill out a form and purchase a marriage license. Many counties offer same-day civil marriage ceremonies. Take cash, check or money order; most county clerks do not accept credit cards.
We were married in Canada four years ago. Can we marry in California . . . to ensure our marital status? -- Stuart and Robert
No. Only unmarried people can marry.
My partner and I were married in Spain two years ago. Can we apply somehow to have our marriage recognized by the state? -- Chris
There is no need to register out-of-state or foreign marriages with California authorities. As of 5:01 p.m. June 16, California will automatically recognize same-sex marriages performed legally elsewhere. Massachusetts, Canada, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and South Africa grant gay marriages.
I'm getting married and want to change my last name to my spouse's. Do I need to go to court? -- Jim
No. To change your name, you need to present your marriage license and photo identification to the Social Security Adminstration. "We will be accepting the new same-sex marriage California certificates" for the purpose of changing a spouse's last name, Social Security spokesman Mark Hinkle said. You'll need to change your last name on your Social Security card before you change your driver’s license.
Does marriage for same-sex couples provide any more legal benefits than a registered domestic partnership? -- Vern and Neil
California law already grants domestic partners virtually all of the legal benefits married couples enjoy. But having the married status can help in how couples are treated by other people and in crisis situations, such as when a spouse is hospitalized, said Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal. "If they say, 'I'm a domestic partner,' someone might say, 'What's that?' " Davidson said. "But if they say, 'I'm a spouse,' they'll know what that means."
If I don't live in California, can I come to California and get married?
Yes, you do not have to live in California to marry here, and Massachusetts and New York state will recognize the marriages. Other states may not recognize the marriages, and some, including Wisconsin and Delaware, impose criminal penalties on its residents "if they enter a marriage outside the state that would have been prohibited in the state," such as gay marriage, according to a fact sheet posted on Lambda Legal's website. The law in Wisconsin, for example, permits authorities to punish offenders with a fine of up to $10,000 and nine months imprisonment.
What should I know if I'm in the military and want a same-sex wedding?
Marrying or attempting to marry a person of the same sex is grounds for dismissal from the service.
What should I know if I want to adopt a child from another country and want to have a same-sex marriage?
Some countries prohibit same-sex married couples from adopting. But they would permit a single adult to adopt.
Do you know of any pending laws to be passed by Congress to have our same-sex marriage recognized by the federal government?
No, but the issue has come up in the presidential campaign. Democratic candidate Barack Obama has called for the repeal of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay marriage. Obama also supports giving same-sex couples who join in a civil union the same legal rights as straight married couples. Republican John McCain supports the Defense of Marriage Act and has said that states have a right to ban gay marriage. Both say marriage should be defined by individual states.
If the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage passes, can the California Supreme Court be petitioned to review the matter and therefore set it aside?
It's possible, said David Cruz, a professor of constitutional law at USC. Supporters of gay marriage could argue that the state constitutional amendment violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from denying any person "equal protection of the laws."
Has a state Supreme Court ever overturned a constitutional amendment approved by the voters?
Yes. In Colorado, voters in 1992 approved Amendment 2, which would have overturned local laws protecting gay men and lesbians from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled the amendment unconstitutional, as did the U.S. Supreme Court, which said in 1996 that it violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause.
If I get the marriage license Tuesday, must I get married the same day?
No, but the wedding ceremony must be held in California within 90 days of receiving the license.
Times staff writer Jean-Paul Renaud contributed to this report.