San Diego County clerk files petition to halt same-sex marriages

Rika Grier, left, and her partner Pastor Nicki Fairley, wait to obtain a license from the San Diego County marriage bureau. The San Diego County clerk is seeking to block the issuance of marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

SAN DIEGO — In the latest legal wrangling over gay marriage in California, the San Diego County clerk filed a petition Friday afternoon asking the state Supreme Court to halt same-sex weddings pending a court hearing.

Such weddings resumed June 28, two days after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a lower court’s ruling invalidating Proposition 8 to become law.

But Ernest J. Dronenburg Jr. argued that the court should halt weddings while it considers the argument that the federal court ruling should apply only to the two couples who sued over Proposition 8, as well as to the county clerks in Alameda and Los Angeles counties, where the couples live.


Dronenburg, 69, is an elected Republican whose office is in charge of issuing marriage licenses in San Diego County.

The petition follows a similar request this month from ProtectMarriage, the sponsors of the 2008 ballot measure. Like Dronenburg, that group argued that Gov. Jerry Brown lacked the authority to order county clerks to issue same-sex marriage licenses because the federal court ruling did not apply statewide.

Both Brown and Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris vehemently disagreed.

Earlier this week, the court refused to halt weddings while it considers the merits of ProtectMarriage’s filing.

Harris said Dronenburg had offered “no new arguments that could deny same-sex couples their constitutionally protected civil rights,” and added that she expects same-sex marriages to continue across the state. “No exceptions.”

A filing from one of California’s conservative county clerks had been expected by both sides, the latest salvo in a legal battle that has continued despite a Supreme Court ruling and hundreds of jubilant same-sex weddings in the last few weeks.

ProtectMarriage issued a statement Friday applauding Dronenburg for “courageously standing up against the attorney general’s attempt to bully local officials into ignoring our state Constitution. The attorney general’s obsession with redefining marriage has put the integrity of the people’s power of initiative, and the rule of law itself, in great jeopardy. We hope other county clerks will bravely step forward, as well.”

UC Irvine law professor Douglas NeJaime said Dronenburg is essentially piggybacking on the ProtectMarriage petition, arguing that because of that group’s petition, there is controversy over what the law requires of county clerks.

“The substantive arguments sound the same to me,” NeJaime said. “The difference is now it is an actual government official” making the filing.

He predicted that the petition would be unsuccessful.

San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors, a majority of whom are Republican, sought to distance themselves from Dronenburg’s action, which was filed for him by Charles S. LiMandri, a Rancho Santa Fe attorney and leader of the bid to restrict marriage to a man and a woman.

“The county clerk has acted independently on this matter,” board Supervisor Greg Cox said. “No one else from the county was consulted or had any part of this court action, including the Board of Supervisors. The county’s position is and always has been that we, the county, will follow applicable law with regards to same-sex marriage.”

Supervisor David Roberts, who is gay, said that as soon as he heard what Dronenburg had done, he demanded a meeting to find out his motives.

“I was livid, to say the least,” Roberts said. “As the first LGBT supervisor, with a married partner, I felt this was a slap in the face. But he says that’s not what this is about. We’ll see.”

Roberts said Dronenburg told him that he merely wants legal clarification and has no intention of refusing to issue licenses to same-sex couples. If that occurs, Roberts said, the county supervisors will step in to ensure they are issued.

“We aren’t going to let that happen,” Roberts said. “We believe in the law.”

Gay rights groups reacted with rage and disdain to the latest filing.

Ted Boutros, one of the lawyers who challenged Proposition 8 in federal court, said the petition was “just as meritless and desperate” as the one filed by ProtectMarriage. It cannot change the fact, he said, that “marriage equality has returned.”

The state Supreme Court asked Brown to respond by 9 a.m. Monday to Dronenburg’s filing. Dronenburg will have until Tuesday to respond to Brown.