Some Calif. county clerks say ‘I don't' to wedding requests

Thousands of gay and lesbian couples across California are expected to marry next week, when a state Supreme Court decision granting that right becomes official.

But in Bakersfield, the seat of Kern County, same-sex marriages will not take place in the county clerk's office. Nor will any others.

In a statement, County Clerk Ann Barnett announced that her office would not solemnize any wedding vows after Friday, a move that she said reflected administrative and budgetary concerns, but that gay rights activists think reflects Barnett's distaste for same-sex marriage. The decision does not affect the ability of any couple in the county to obtain a marriage license.

Barnett's decision seems to be part of a spate of local efforts by opponents of same-sex marriage to hinder the carrying out of the Supreme Court's May 15 ruling overturning two state laws that banned such unions. A subsequent ruling decreed that the marriages could begin at 5 p.m. on June 16, though most counties will wait until June 17.

Just days after Barnett's announcement on June 5, officials in Butte County, north of Sacramento, the state capital, said they too would cancel their civil ceremonies, citing financial reasons, though they said the decision was made months ago. Officials in Merced County, in the heart of the state's conservative Central Valley, also announced the same thing, though they quickly reversed course.

The Campaign for Children and Families, which opposes same-sex marriage, has urged clerks in counties “where the man-woman marriage ethic is strongest in California” to deny licenses to same-sex couples until after the outcome of a statewide ballot initiative in November that would bar such unions.

The group's founder, Randy Thomasson, said he had spoken with several county clerks who said they did not want to or intend to issue same-sex marriage licenses unless forced to. “They are process people, and the process is roughly being shoved aside,” Thomasson said.

A similar note was struck by a conservative group, Liberty Counsel, which asked the state's Court of Appeals on Thursday to halt same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses.

Matthew Staver, the group's founder, said the California Supreme Court's decision had “made a mess” of various state laws pertaining to marriage, and that the Legislature needed time to pass laws to iron out the differences between them.