Obstacles still exist for same-sex couples
BY DAVID CASTELLON • dcastell@visalia. gannett.com • May 16, 2008

Thursday’s California Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage came as welcome news to Michael Riddle of Visalia.

In 2004, he and his partner paid for a marriage license in San Francisco after the city’s mayor decided to allow same-sex marriages there. But three weeks before their wedding day, legal challenges put a halt to the ceremonies.

On Thursday, Riddle, 35, again was making wedding plans — until bureaucracy got in the way.

At the Tulare County Clerk’s Office in Visalia, Riddle was told he couldn’t obtain a marriage license. The problem, said Deltra Kibler, a supervisor at the clerk’s office, is that the current marriage-license application has spaces for the “groom” and “bride” alone.

Until the California Department of Vital Records approves new documents with a “partner” designation, she said, the county can’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“All the crazy laws. I don’t understand at all,” a clearly frustrated Riddle told Kibler. “There are those who want to get married, and me and my partner want to get married.”

Kibler said she doesn’t know how long it will be before the documents are changed. Riddle asked whether he and his partner could have a wedding ceremony and apply for the marriage license later, but was told no.

“It’s a misdemeanor to marry [people] without a marriage license,” Kibler said.

By late afternoon Riddle was the only person to come into the clerk’s office seeking a license for a same-sex marriage, she said.
Another roadblock
Outside the clerk’s office, Riddle described this bureaucratic delay as the latest obstacle members of the homosexual and lesbian communities must endure, despite advances in gay rights over the past decade.

“We don’t feel that the laws have been in favor of us,” he said. “Several of our friends … they go to the hospitals or there is a death, and the partner is not allowed to be in the hospital or [make final arrangements] .”

Riddle said he and his partner have been together for more than five years. In March they had a private ceremony with friends “to prove we are committed,” he said.

But they’d still like to be formally and legally married.
Steps being taken
Lea Brooks, a spokeswoman the state Department of Public Health, which oversees Vital Records, said her agency is evaluating the steps necessary to comply with the court’s ruling. It will send guidance to counties “soon,” she said.

The creation of new marriage-license applications won’t necessarily pave the way for same-sex ceremonies, however.

The state Supreme Court ruling becomes permanent 30 days after being issued. Tulare County Clerk Gregory Hardcastle said Thursday he had received no word on whether Vital Records might wait until after the 30 days elapse to issue new marriage licenses.

Also, the Supreme Court could receive a petition to reconsider its ruling. If the seven judges decide to take up the case again, their decision could be suspended while they reconsider, Tulare County Superior Court Judge Paul Vortmann said.

Another possible challenge for gay and lesbian couples: finding someone willing to marry them. Riddle said a large number of local churches will not perform same-sex marriages even if they are legal.

County judges are an option, Vortmann said.

“I’m surely going to perform them because that’s the law,” he said. “We are obligated to perform ceremonies during normal business hours.”

Vortmann said he doesn’t know what would happen if a judge declined to perform a same-sex ceremony.

“It’s never come up,” he said.
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