Tuesday, June 24, 2008 • Same-sex marriage arrives in Lassen County

Publisher’s note: This story originally appeared in the Tuesday, June 24, 2008, edition of the Lassen County Times.

Thirty days have passed, and a controversial May 16 decision by the California Supreme Court overturning the state’s ban on same-sex marriage has become the law of the land across California and in Lassen County on Tuesday, June 17.

Lassen County Clerk Julie Bustamante said she has a responsibility to uphold the state’s laws, and that’s exactly what she will do if a same-sex couple seeks a marriage license or wants to hold a marriage ceremony in the county clerk’s office at the Lassen County Courthouse.

“I don’t write the laws,” Bustamante said. “I’ve taken an oath to enforce them. That’s my job.”

So far, no same-sex couples have come in to obtain marriage licenses in Lassen County, but Bustamante said she had three inquiries before the court’s ruling took effect. She thought those inquiries came from outside Lassen County.

As required by law, the county clerk’s office will use the new forms provided by the state.

“The state creates the form for us,” Bustamante said. “We have to use it.”

In addition to issuing marriage licenses, the county clerks in California have the authority to perform marriage ceremonies in their offices.

Bustamonte said she performs marriages at the county clerk’s office for couples who have a marriage license and make an appointment. If a same-sex couple met the legal requirements, and made a request, Bustamante said she would perform the ceremony.

“I would follow the law,” Bustamante said. “Right now, it’s legal.”

According to Bustamante, county clerks may not pick and choose which ceremonies they will perform. They must provide the service to everyone or to no one.

The Los Angeles Times characterized the moderately conservative, Republican-dominated court’s decision as “a bold surprise.” The court struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and declared any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation would be constitutionally suspect.

The court’s ruling cited a 60-year-old precedent that stuck down a ban on interracial marriage in California. According to the ruling, the state Constitution grants the right to marry to everyone, including same-sex couples.

A constitutional amendment initiative banning same-sex marriage will appear on the state’s November ballot. In 2002, 61 percent of voters statewide approved Proposition 22 that said, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California.”

The legislature then passed a group of domestic partner laws that granted same-sex couples most of the rights of married people.