SAN FRANCISCO – A conservative legal group asked the California Supreme Court on Thursday to put off finalization of its decision legalizing same-sex marriage until voters got a chance to weigh in.
The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund wants the ruling stayed until November, when voters will probably encounter a ballot measure that would amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage. That amendment would overturn the justices' ruling.
In court papers submitted late Thursday, the group warned that the state would suffer "great public harm and mischief" if it began allowing same-sex marriages on June 16, when the court's decision would ordinarily become final.
Defense Fund attorneys also said implementing the ruling in the meantime would be an unnecessary expense for the state and cause unneeded confusion for couples.
"Permitting this decision to take effect immediately — in light of the realistic possibility that the people of California might amend their constitution to reaffirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman — risks legal havoc and uncertainty of immeasurable magnitude," the attorneys wrote in the petition.
Many couples started planning weddings and making appointments to secure marriage licenses immediately after the justices overturned the state's gay marriage ban on May 15.
A cloud of uncertainty lingers over the pending unions, however. A coalition of religious and social conservative groups is in the process of putting a measure on the November ballot that would write a gay marriage ban into the state constitution.
County clerks have until June 18 to verify the signatures needed to qualify the amendment for the election, according to the Defense Fund. A preliminary count by 37 counties indicates that the initiative has a high chance of being put to voters, the group said in its petition.
Defense Fund attorneys asked the Supreme Court to hold a hearing on when its decision should take effect or to amend it to prevent it from being implemented for now.
"The people of California have a constitutional right to vote on marriage, and we trust the high court will respect the democratic process," said Defense Fund senior counsel Glen Lavy, who argued before the court for maintaining the state's one-man, one-woman marriage laws.
Among the logistical nightmares the attorneys predicted are counties scheduling different start dates based on their ability to create new, gender-neutral marriage licenses and the question of whether marriages sanctioned during the five-month window would be annulled if the amendment passes.
The court majority did not give a deadline for county clerks to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But it directed state officials "to take all actions necessary to effectuate our ruling, including requiring county marriage clerks to carry out their duties "in a manner consistent with the decision of this court."
The Defense Fund is representing the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund, a California group that is part of the coalition spearheading the proposed amendment. Approving a temporary stay, the Defense Fund argued, is justified until voters have the chance to decide in November the fate of marriage in California.
Justices have until June 16 to consider the Defense Fund's petition, according to Jennifer Pizer, an attorney with the gay rights legal group Lambda Legal. They also could grant themselves an additional 60 days to assess it, Pizer said.
Pizer, who is planning an October wedding, said that even if the stay request results in delays, gay and lesbian couples should be heartened by the Supreme Court victory.
"What's critical in all of this is, society generally and those of us who are affected most urgently have to recognize that we have momentous, joyous moments of breakthrough, but the process of social and legal change proceeds step by step," she said.