MODESTO — The Stanislaus County clerk-recorder's office started issuing marriage licenses Monday to same-sex couples after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the marriages could resume in California.
Over the course of the day, 11 same-sex couples took out marriage licenses at the downtown Modesto office, and seven civil ceremonies were conducted, Clerk-Recorder Lee Lundrigan said.
Monday was the first chance for all but a handful of the state's same-sex couples to wed since 2008, when about 18,000 marriages went forward during a brief legal window before a voter-approved ban.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutional merits of that ban called Proposition 8 and a lower court on Friday said same-sex marriages could resume. Sunday, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected a last-ditch appeal.
Joanne Scott and Debbie Rushed of Modesto were the first Stanislaus County couple to exchange vows Monday morning. They have been together for 33 years and both have worked at E.&J. Gallo Winery.
"We bought a home together, shared life and tried to make things work financially so we can live together and retire," Rushed said. "It is almost like a burden is lifted off. Now that the government considers us a couple, it puts us more in the mainstream."
Scott and Rushed said the health and retirement benefits that straight married couples take for granted were a major factor in their decision to tie the knot.
Scott, a 57-year-old trainer at Gallo, said she now can carry Rushed on her union health insurance. The health plan did not recognize their domestic partner status but does recognize marriage, Scott said.
Rushed, who turns 63 this week, has paid for COBRA benefits since she retired from Gallo in September. The couple added that the marriage license will provide them more options with retirement benefits, giving them a greater sense of financial security.
Although they feel acceptance from co- workers and others they know, Scott said they felt nervous about getting married. "We are not the type to flaunt our relationship in front of people," she said.
Lundrigan said her staff will conduct civil ceremonies today and Wednesday. The office is closed Thursday for the Fourth of July, and marriages won't be performed Friday because of limited staff.
Next week, the clerk-recorder's office will resume its regular schedule of holding civil marriage ceremonies Fridays from 9 to 11 a.m., Lundrigan said.
Marriages spike across state
The mood was more subdued in downtown Modesto than in other cities in California, where jubilant gay and lesbian couples flocked to city halls and county courthouses to wed with kids, siblings and pets in tow.
The Los Angeles County clerk recorder's office logged more than 600 online marriage license applications over the weekend more than five times the normal amount and posted extended hours Monday and today to deal with the crush.
In West Hollywood, where about 40 percent of the population is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, the City Council was deputized to perform nuptials. Free shuttles ran from court to City Hall. Twenty couples were married within the first 45 minutes Monday, and a line grew throughout the morning.
Gay marriage opponents were less visible Monday than during the lengthy legal saga. They vowed to continue fighting to keep marriage between a man and a woman.
Fewer than a dozen protesters gathered outside the clerk-recorder's office in Sacramento, holding large signs that read "GOD has ruled on marriage" and "Marriage =
1 Man + 1 Woman." One man shouted at future newlyweds through a bullhorn. The protesters left by midmorning.
In Modesto, Scott and Rushed drove to the downtown Modesto office and were let in by staff at 8 a.m. They received their license, and two other couples were waiting when Scott and Rushed went upstairs for the ceremony.
"They made us feel comfortable," Rushed said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.