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California Marriage Forms Rewritten For Gays

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LOS ANGELES — You have to figure "bride" and "groom" are out.

So, what will the California marriage license look like in the new era of same-sex marriages? Will it list "Partner A" and "Partner B"? "Intended No. 1" and "Intended No. 2"? Or will it contain just blank spaces for the betrothed?

The court decision last week that legalized gay marriage in California has created a semantic puzzle with scant time to solve it. With the ruling tentatively set to take effect June 16, state bureaucrats must rapidly rewrite, print and distribute a marriage license application.

The current one-page form uses "bride" and "groom" four times each, and also requires the signatures of an "unmarried man" and an "unmarried woman," wording that is obviously out of step with the California Supreme Court ruling opening the way for gay marriages.

Thousands of same-sex couples are expected to flock to the state next month to wed. But typically it takes the state months to churn out new forms.

Kate Kendell, executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said she is not particularly worried.

"This is where you don't want the perfect to be the enemy of the good," she said. "If people can marry and those marriages are legally recognized in compliance with the court ruling ... the t's crossed and i's dotted on the form are the least of our concerns."

The person with the final word is Mark Horton, director of the state Public Health Department, which oversees the Office of Vital Records.

"It's too early for us to give specifics," said Linette Scott, a deputy director at the department. "We are going to be in compliance with the court order."

In Massachusetts, the only other state to legalize gay marriage, "bride" and "groom" were dropped from its marriage certificate in favor of "Party A" and "Party B." Those individuals then check a box to indicate male or female. In Vermont, which issues certificates of civil union for gays, couples also are identified as "Party A" and "Party B."

Simply scratching out "bride" and "groom" on the current California form could be problematic. The form reads: "Make no erasures, whiteouts or other alterations."

Tom McClusky, a vice president at the conservative Family Research Council, said the state should maintain two marriage forms, one of which preserves "bride" and "groom."

"If the definition is seen to be so fluid, where do you stop?" he asked. "I can imagine the discussion in a couple of years of how many people should be included. Why is it wrong for two men and a woman to get married? I don't want to see the top of THAT wedding cake."

The wording on the license is just one of many unanswered questions left in the wake of the ruling that struck down laws against gay marriage in the nation's most populous state. There are questions about its effective date. And it could be a fleeting victory for gays, since religious and social conservatives hope to put a constitutional amendment on the state ballot in November that would undo the ruling.

On Thursday, a conservative group, the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, asked the California Supreme Court to put the decision to allow gay marriages on hold until after the election.

Unlike Massachusetts, California has no residency requirement for obtaining a marriage license. That means the state could become a magnet for gays nationwide eager to tie the knot.

"There will be all kinds of chaos and confusion if there are thousands of marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples before November" and voters then pass the amendment banning gay marriage, said Glen Lavy, senior counsel for the organization.

For now, things are moving ahead, if haltingly.

In Los Angeles County, home to nearly 10 million people, officials are considering opening more satellite offices to issue marriage licenses, recruiting more volunteer commissioners to conduct ceremonies and ensuring enough police to handle the crowds.

"We never find ourselves in a circumstance when things get implemented so quickly," said Steven Weir, president of the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials. "We already have people calling and making inquiries. Many are anxious to get a license immediately, and some are extremely agitated they can't be accommodated right now."

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