The Palm Springs Tourism Bureau was ready when the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California. Within an hour of the high court handing down its decision Wednesday, the bureau launched a wedding web site featuring photographs of same-sex couples and spotlighting the desert city's gay and lesbian resorts.
"We just saw this as a great opportunity. LGBT people planning to get married need a location, and Palm Springs is a favorite destination," Hillary Angel, a bureau spokeswoman, said. "You can get married at Frank Sinatra's estate."
The nation's most populous state was a trailblazer the last time it opened the door to gay marriages five years ago. Back then, California was only the second state —after Massachusetts— to do so, a position it lost when voters slammed the door shut after only a few months by amending the state constitution to outlaw same-sex unions.
Now, as state officials prepare once again to issue marriage licenses on an equal opportunity basis, jewelers, hotels and event planners are playing catch-up up with a dozen other states and the District of Columbia. Couples, meanwhile, are making wedding plans against a political and social landscape that looks much different from the one that existed in 2008, when an estimated 18,000 couples hurried to tie the knot before the ban's passage and spent months not knowing if their unions would be invalidated.
"Today is the first day of an entirely new reality for same-sex couples and for LGBT people in this state," said National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell, who got married during the brief window that year. "No one else in the history of this nation faced the sort of uncertainty, the stutter step of forward progress and backward sliding to the extent the LGBT community has, and now, at least in California, we are done."
Opponents of same-sex marriage have said they are exploring various legal options for making one last-ditch effort to stop it. The Supreme Court's 5-4 opinion legalized gay marriage in California on a technicality, holding that the sponsors of the voter-backed amendment, known as Proposition 8, lacked authority to represent the state after Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris refused to defend the measure in court.
Lawyers for the ban's backers still have 24 days to ask the Supreme Court to rehear their case. Most legal analysts think Proposition 8 supporters have slim-to-zero chance of preventing same-sex marriages from resuming, which would happen once the Supreme Court's ruling becomes official and frees the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to remove the hold it placed on such weddings while the ban's constitutionality was being debated.
Without a firm date, the Los Angeles County clerk's office told same-sex couples who called for information Thursday that it could not process their marriage license applications or take their appointments for marriage ceremonies, office spokeswoman Regina Ip said.
"We have received calls, but the response has been that couples can only make an appointment for a ceremony if they have a license, but we won't be issuing licenses to same-sex couples until the (appeals) court lifts the stay," Ip said.
The Williams Institute, a think tank based at UCLA that estimated the number of couples who wed in 2008, is predicting that 37,000 of the 100,000 same-sex couples now living together in California will get married over the next three years, creating $492 million in new business from wedding spending and tourism dollars from out-of-state guests and another $46 million in tax and fee revenue for the state.
Brad Sears, the institute's executive director, said the assumptions on which he derived those estimates, which came from the early experience of Massachusetts, may be conservative. Not only is California known as "a destination wedding state in its own right," but gay Californians making wedding plans now have the luxury of time and a sense of security that did not exist five years ago, which could persuade couples to spend more on their celebrations, Sears said.
"There is no dark cloud hanging over their marriages" he said. "They have stability of knowing marriage is here and marriage is here to stay in a way it wasn't in 2008."