Prop. 8 struck down: Will California's gay couples flock to the altar?

Prop. 8, California's gay marriage ban, took a hit Tuesday, but the legal battle might not be over yet. Until it is, California couples will likely be barred from marrying. 

By , Staff writer

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    Sandy Stier (l.) and her partner, Kris Perry, pose for cameras at a news conference in Los Angeles after the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declared California's ban on gay marriage, known as Prop. 8, unconstitutional Tuesday. The couple was a plaintiff in the case.
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The federal court ruling Tuesday that Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage, is unconstitutional will not lead to an immediate rush for marriage licenses across California, say legal analysts as well as same-sex couples who have been waiting for the court’s decision.

The main reason is the stay on the decision, which prevents same-sex couples from marrying in order to avoid having to undo the marriages if another court were to overrule the decision. This actually happened in 2008, when 18,000 couples got married after the state Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal, only to have voters pass Prop. 8 five months later. Their legal status remains in question.

But the general uncertainty over the status of gay marriage nationwide is also a factor for some couples. 

Recommended: Gay marriage in the US: six ways states differ on the issue

Long Beach residents Kimberlee Ward and Anne Albertine, who have had a domestic partnership certificate for seven years – and who have a 13-month-old daughter, Ava – say they are not going to get married until the US Supreme Court weighs in.

“We are waiting until it is fully recognized on the federal and state levels,” says Ms. Ward, director of admissions at an elementary school. “We don’t want to be married one day and then be declared illegal the next, or be considered differently for federal and state taxes.”

Ward is Ava's birth mother, but the couple has given their daughter Ms. Albertine's last name, to give Albertine more legal rights. The couple has not gone through adoption procedures.

“We love the idea that now Ava can see us in the same light as the parents of her friends and understand our marriage and relationship is just as valuable and loving as any other married couple,” says Ward.

According to the an analysis by the Williams Institute, which compiles statistics countrywide on sexual orientation and gender identity, nearly 100,000 same-sex couples live in California, raising more than 30,000 children under age 18. Based on how many couples have gotten married in other states upon the legalization of same-sex marriage, the institute predicts that more than 24,000 couples are likely to marry within three years of the stay being lifted, or a Supreme Court ruling in their favor.

Opponents of gay marriage called the ruling by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco a mistake.

“Today’s decision was disappointing but not surprising, coming from the most liberal Circuit Court in the country,” wrote Family Research Council President Tony Perkins in a statement. “This Hollywood-funded lawsuit, which seeks to impose San Francisco values on the entire country, may eventually reach the Supreme Court. This is not about constitutional governance but the insistence of a group of activists to force their will on their fellow citizens."

For San Francisco couple Lorie Nachlis and Abby Abinanti, who have been in a committed relationship for 13 years, anything other than marriage is a second-class arrangement. They have rejected the idea of a legal domestic partnership. 

“Within seconds of this decision, my son texted me to say, ‘Now are you getting married?' ” says Ms. Nachlis, who is divorced from a heterosexual marriage. “We have a lot of extended family for who this will give a great feeling of stability.”

With a legal background as divorce lawyer, Nachlis thinks the stay will be in effect until the US Supreme Court rules or refuses to take the case. But because she is nearing 60, Nachlis says she may be inclined to go to another state to get married.

“This age issue hit home a couple weeks ago when I was hospitalized, and it occurred to me that I don’t have a surviving spouse, and also who would be making decisions for me,” says Nachlis. “I really, really want to get married in California, but this moment made me realize maybe it’s time to get married in Iowa.”

Indeed, even beyond court rulings, the issue of gay marriage is in flux in California. 

“This is the time to celebrate this incredible victory,” said Eric Harrison, interim executive president of Love Honor Cherish, an anti-Prop. 8 organization.

But if it is not clear by spring whether or not same-sex couples can legally wed, his group is still planning to collect signatures for an 2012 ballot initiative to overthrow Prop. 8.

He says: “It’s obviously a lingering question, whether gays and lesbians can get married now or how long this stay will be in place.” 

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