OFFICIATOR: With this ring...
WOMEN: With this ring...
OFFICIATOR: I do thee wed.
WOMEN: I do thee wed. ( Applause )
SPENCER MICHELS: The marriages between same sex couples continued today at San Francisco City Hall following the city's decision last week to issue licenses regardless of gender. Nearly 2,700 ceremonies have been performed as the nation watched the unique spectacle.
ROBERT TYLER: We would do what was necessary to try and preserve the rule of law.
SPENCER MICHELS: Groups went to court to try to stop the marriages as illegal, a violation of voter initiative that banned same-sex marriage four years ago. But so far they have been unsuccessful. Among those in line hoping to get through the process before the courts intervened, were Andrea Fontenot and Erin Brennan of Santa Barbara , along with their eight-month-old daughter.
ANDREA FONTENOT: Because we have a child it is really important to us, for our union to be legally recognized for us emotionally, you know, our commitment's already here. We know that we are married.
ERIN BRENNAN: There's definitely emotions, knowing that finally, the larger world will see this is as-- maybe for just a short time-- legal.
SPENCER MICHELS: Besides the personal satisfaction, Fontenot and others saw larger issues at play influencing those who are trying to stop gay marriage.
ANDREA FONTENOT: It's a just simple case of trying to deny a segment of the population their basic rights and make us second class citizens. I mean, people are objecting to it on religious grounds. That this is the law, this is the state we're talking about, not religion. So that doesn't have any bearing.
SPENCER MICHELS: Randy Thomasson is executive director of the Campaign for California Families, which had supported the initiative barring same sex marriage.
RANDY THOMASSON: State law is very clear -- Marriage is only for a man and a woman. The mayor of San Francisco is violating state law. He's behaving like a dictator, not like a California public official.
SPENCER MICHELS: Gavin Newsom, who became San Francisco mayor five weeks ago, decided to allow same sex marriage by simply telling the city clerk last week to make the state marriage form gender neutral.
Newsom said his decision was prompted by President Bush's state of the union speech suggesting the possibility of a constitutional amendment to preserve the marriage between a man and a woman.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage. (Cheers and applause)
SPENCER MICHELS: Newsom, leading a city where about 20 percent of the voters are gay, was dismayed. He considered Proposition 22, the measure barring gay marriage, unconstitutional.
MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM: We made a statement and I think we have re ignited a fundamental debate, and that's about discrimination, whether or not the city and county of San Francisco is going to discriminate against same gender couples.
And I don't think there's anyone in good conscience, and I mean this sincerely, in good conscience that can tell me that denying the same rights that my wife Kimberly and I have to same sex couples is anything but discrimination.
SPENCER MICHELS: Newsom decided to keep city hall open for marriages over a rainy holiday weekend which brought out more couples, and the gay men's chorus to serenade them.
SPENCER MICHELS: While many of these folks have high hopes of being legally married, they are admittedly unsure of how valid that marriage will turn out to be. Some of them expect the legal wrangling to go on for years.
WOMAN: I waited a long time to do this part. With this ring....
OFFICIATOR: Take your time.
WOMAN: I thee wed.
WOMAN: I thee wed.
SPENCER MICHELS: Gay and lesbian couples have paid their $82 for a license and starting this week are paying $62 for the ceremony. For literary agent Amy Rennert who married her 17-year partner while court was in session the ceremony was part of a legal and political fight.
AMY RENNERT: To be able to be married here in the rotunda of San Francisco City Hall is something I never dreamed would be possible. It's also political. I also give thanks to our Mayor Gavin Newsom for allowing these special days to happen. There'll be more fighting to be done and we'll do it.
SPENCER MICHELS: Vik Amar, professor of constitutional law at the University of California 's Hastings Law School sees three main legal issues surrounding the San Francisco controversy. One is whether the conservative groups which brought suit have a right to sue. The second is if Prop. 22, violates the state constitution's equal protection provision.
VIK AMAR: Because that's Newsom's argument, that he's bound by California law, but that the highest California law is the California constitution, which trumps or prevails over an inconsistent voter initiative.
And then third, even if Newsom is right, that the California equal protection clause allows for gay marriages, then there's still the question of whether a mayor should be doing this before a court has invalidated Proposition 22.
SPENCER MICHELS: Those issues all came up in two court cases. One judge put the issue over until Friday. The other told the city to come back until the end of March to explain why it shouldn't stop gays from marrying.
Although that judge issued a cease-and-desist order, legal scholars said it would have no stay or effect and would not stay or stop the marriages. The two sides had different interpretations of the decision.
DENNIS HERRERA: We are extremely happy and gratified that a stay did not issue. We are going to be continuing and coming back on March 29, making our arguments on the merits.
SPENCER MICHELS: Robert Tyler is an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund which is challenging gay marriages.
ROBERT TYLER: We are pleased with the decision. The judge gave us a cease and desist order. It's a very positive step. It's not 100 percent what we were looking for. We were looking for an immediate stay, but the judge did make a determination that there is a violation of the law.
RICHARD ACKERMAN: Every day that goes by where more marriages are allowed to be licensed is one more day that my wife and I have our relationship redefined. There is a harm that permeates this entire nation. Every single married person in the United States is being affected by this ruling right now.
SPENCER MICHELS: The legal debate certainly is not over yet, according to Professor Amar, who sees a parallel in the Massachusetts Supreme Court's taking up the gay marriage issue.
VIK AMAR: At a minimum what the court can say is "look, unless and until the appellate courts sort this matter out, until they decide whether the California equal protection clause invalidates the voter initiative Prop. 22 -- that we are not going to recognize these marriages in the interim.
Until the California Supreme Court weighs in, and ultimately they're going to have to decide, just as the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided, what the state constitution means.
SPENCER MICHELS: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced he considers same sex marriages a violation of state law and urged the courts to act quickly.
One court action has already been appealed and the state has said it will not accept marriages licenses from same-sex couples. Meanwhile, Mayor Newsom has vowed to let the weddings continue until a court directs him not to.