No Ceremony for Those Who Marry in Kings, Kern, Butte

>> Thursday, June 12, 2008

Three counties in California will not be performing ceremonies for Gay couples who wish to marry. A previous diary on Kos detailed that Kern County Auditor-Controller-County Clerk Ann Barnett has stopped performing ceremonies for couples who want to marry with a civil service. Not reported was that the symbolic gesture appeared to be spreading as Merced, Butte and Kings Counties also said they will cease performing ceremonies. However, an in depth look at the situation reveals the possibility that only Kern and Kings appear to be refusing out of anti-gay sentiment.

The official reason cited by these counties is budgetary concerns. If we examine the budget for Butte county, we find that Butte did in fact have an $8,447 difference in the amount budgeted for services and supplies and the amount requested for the 07-08 fiscal year. Also denied was a request for two additional positions. A search around the net reveals that the situation in Butte seems to be a legitimate decision in response to budgetary concerns. Dagon at spoke to Candace J. Grubbs, the elected Clerk-Recorder, on Monday June 9, 2008. She reported that

After the Primary Election, her office found itself in a budget crunch. They had to leave positions unfilled. She had to look at all the duties of her job and see what she could NOT do and get by. Wedding ceremonies are a "may" ,not a "must do" for Clerk-Recorders. Plus, Ms. Grubbs sees herself as in competition with the private sector ... not only religious folks, but also non-religious folk AND the "deputies for a day."

In California, for a small fee through Ms. Grubbs office, ANYONE may officiate at a single wedding. They apply, get trained in how to fill out the paper work, and officiate at the one wedding. Way cool. Ms. Grubbs thinks this is so much more personal and pleasant an option than one of her staff, unknown to the couple, officiating at the nuptials.

Dagon is of the opinion that Grubbs is sincere and not doing this out of some desire to symbolically thwart the marriage of same sex couples. In response to that question about Ms. Grubbs, Dagon said,

But I spent a good 15+ minutes on the phone with Ms. Grubbs this morning. I probed this way and that. She sure had all the correct answers of a good business woman and a non-homophobe. I did not pick up ANY bias at all in her decision to stop the ceremonies ... none at all. And I was looking for it.

She did not know me from Adam. She knew I was not a reporter and did live in the county. That is all she knew about me. But we had a most pleasant time on the phone ... well I was migraining and not speaking very clearly so I had the sympathy thing going for me. But I really and truly did not pick up any bias.

And at Chico Pride Fest on Saturday, there were fliers around from Wedding Planners ready to provide you with a male or female officiate for your ceremony. There is a private sector in Butte County to provide wedding ceremonies.

And the "deputy for a day" for wedding ceremonies is "must" for the Clerk's office ... she has to provide that service.

I am almost convinced that budgetary problems are not a fig leaf to hide the real intent of Ms. Grubbs. Still, I remain somewhat skeptical. The services cost $37 each and it seems like it would be a way of making money to help cover some of the budget shortfall. It is possible however, that Ms. Grubs duties do not allot enough time to perform the ceremonies and complete her other duties. Cursory research found that ceremonies took anywhere from 10-30 minutes to perform. Ms. Grubbs estimated 200 ceremonies a year. That does not seem like an inordinate amount of time, especially as there is not likely to be more than two on any given day.

Something that may or may not lead credence to the actions of Ms. Grubbs is what happened in Merced. Stephen Jones, the clerk for Merced had originally declared he too would cease ceremonies over budgetary concerns. He received immediate pressure to reverse his decision. He eventually did so after receiving another clerk position to perform weddings and some additional space. His office performs 500 weddings a year. Note though that he too is suspected of acting initially out of anti-gay sentiment but being undercut when his excuse was erased.

Jones sent an e-mail Thursday morning to Dee Tatum, county chief executive officer, and the Board of Supervisors outlining his decision to stop performing weddings.

In his response, sent before Jones announced plans to stop performing marriages, Tatum wrote, “If space is a problem, then certainly we can make (room) 301 available and 310, as well as the board chambers when it is not in use.”

Tatum added, “I would suggest before you take this step to see if this is legally defensible. I place no value on whether marriages are right or wrong or should be conducted or not. We, the organization, will certainly be asked why after all these years we have taken this step.”

The same article that gives the information on Jones also includes a quote from another clerk regarding the financial implications of performing the ceremonies.

Contrary to the claim from Kern County that the ceremonies are a drain on resources, Weir, the clerk in Contra Costa County, said they make money.
"It is a financial plus," said Weir, whose office makes $72,000 a year solemnizing marriages at $60 a pop. "It's something you can do fairly easily, pays its own way and is a service you are providing to your customer."

There are a couple possible sets implications from this information. The first is that Butte is not charging enough for the ceremony or that the private sector there is forcing them out of business by undercutting them. The second is that Ms. Grubbs is using the cessation of ceremonies as leverage for more resources in her budget battle with the county. If enough pressure is applied to start up the ceremonies, she may get the money for the positions she wanted. The last possibility is that Grubbs was simply lying and fooled Dagon.

Circumstantial evidence suggests that the last possibility is not highly unlikely Proposition 22 was passed in Butte 69-31. In comparison, Kern County was 80 and Merced County voters supported it with 77 percent voting in favor. The proposition passed statewide with 61 percent of the vote.

What is not in dispute is that the Kern County Auditor/Controller/County Clerk Ann Barnett is definitely doing this out of a desire to symbolically thwart same sex couples right to marry. She went as far as she could to avoid aiding the couples in any manner and when that failed, she canceled all the services. She ended up canceling 25 heterosexual ceremonies that had been scheduled after June 13 to prevent the same sex couples from getting their ceremonies.

Kern County is a notoriously conservative place and that someone in this county would refuse to abide by the law when it comes to equal rights for homosexuals should have almost been expected. I do not expect that the end to ceremonies will last particularly long. There is enormous pressure, if not in Kern, from the State that wants to see the courts ruling enforced as a matter of precedent and keeping law and order. Ann Barnett will have to do the ceremonies or resign. Her budgetary excuse is utter nonsense.

Little information exists about the situation in king county. the most commonly cited information is this

The clerk in Kings County has indicated he does not plan to grant the new licenses until the Court of Appeals takes that step, said Stephen Weir, president of the California Association of Clerks and Election Officials.

Kings County has a notice on its Web site saying it does "not anticipate any changes in our current marriage license procedures until such time as the lower court's implementation rulings take effect."

The legal question Kings County is using is a question over the Supreme Court's decision ordering a lower-level court, that had upheld California’s law on traditional marriage, to issue a new order favoring gay marriage. There is debate about when that appeals court must comply. Kings County is taking the position that it does not have to issue gay marriage licenses until that court issues the revised order. Not sure how long that will hold up.


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