June 11, 2008

Moon-Faced Assassins of Joy Refuse to Marry Anyone

Moon-Faced Assassin of Joy as depicted in Clive Barker's 'Nightbreed'Officials in two California counties have come up with a novel way of insuring the preservation of allegedly traditional marriages against same-sex marriages. If they have to perform weddings for same-sex couples, they'll simply refuse to perform any weddings at all. That way marriages can only be performed in religious settings — in the case of these two counties, that means a church — and churches almost entirely will refuse to perform same-sex weddings. The counties in question are Butte and Kern, both largely rural and not places with large numbers of gay people, but their excuse is that they don't have the resources to perform same-sex and opposite-sex weddings, so they won't do either one.

2 counties to halt all weddings, gay or not

County officials in at least two California counties say they'll stop performing all wedding ceremonies by next week, arguing that they don't have enough resources to marry both gay and straight couples.

Officials in Kern and Butte counties cited budget and staffing constraints as the rationale for halting the ceremonies. But clerks in other counties say that claim is specious. Some activists went further, arguing that the decision to stop the ceremonies amounts to poorly disguised discrimination against gay and lesbian couples...
Gee, ya think?
In Kern County, Clerk Ann Barnett announced her decision only after county lawyers told her she could not refuse to marry gay couples. Butte County Clerk Candace Grubb, meanwhile, blamed budget constraints, telling the Chico Enterprise-Record that her decision was made long before the court ruling...
Am I the only one who sees a bit of low-brow humor in talking about "Grubb in Butte?"
Both counties have conservative populations that overwhelmingly supported a 2000 ballot measure that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, a law found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on May 15. Advocates of that law are going back to the ballot in November with a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages...

Steve Weir, Contra Costa County's clerk and president of the California Association of Clerks and Elected Officials, noted that the state allows counties to set their own fees for marriage ceremonies so they can recover the costs associated with performing the duty.

"It's a nice service that we provide to the public, and it's not costing me anything. In this day and age with the budget situation, how can you go wrong providing a public service that helps with your overhead? It's a no-brainer..."

Others said they doubt that the clerk's office in any rural, conservative county would be overwhelmed with gay couples come next week. Kings County Clerk Ken Baird, for example, said he would be surprised if more than a handful of same-sex couples wanted to get married there.

"Bakersfield (the Kern County seat) is not a very safe place to be out," added the Rev. Byrd Tetzlaff of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Kern County. "We are not expecting that many couples, maybe 10 or 12..."

After hearing of the decision, Tetzlaff announced she would perform free marriages to same-sex couples until Nov. 4, when voters will weigh in the proposed constitutional amendment.

Next Tuesday she plans to offer her services to all couples getting licenses at the county building. But she said she and other gay-marriage supporters have been told that the police will not allow them to conduct the ceremonies there...

[Kern County Supervisor Don] Maben said he is "getting a lot of flak" for raising concerns about Barnett's decision but, that to him, it's not a gay-rights issue - it is simply a marriage issue. At least 25 opposite-sex couples who had weddings scheduled at the clerk's office are also being forced to make other plans, he said...
Opponents of same-sex marriage have long argued that they oppose it precisely because it weakens the kind of marriage that they favor. In light of this development in Butte and Kern, it appears that this was a case of self-fulfilling prophecy. I find it hard to believe that performing a few additional ceremonies — a very few — for which the counties in question recover all expenses wuld tax local budgets to any extent at all, and certainly if that were the reason for their refusal, they could still make facilities available for others to carry out the ceremonies free of charge. That they refuse to do so and that a minister who is willing to do it has been told that the local police won't allow her to do so gives a clear lie to the justification being used by the Butte and Kern moon-faced assassins of joy.

Ironically, it would appear to be religious conservatives who are the real threat to marriage. Personally, I support the right of two people of the same religious persuasion to get married. The officials in Kern and Butte have a problem with that, too. Really, this is a cynical attempt to exploit a very old loophole in the laws governing marriage. By refusing to perform weddings, these counties — and I'm sure they won't be the only jurisdictions that try this — are turning over the right to make a contract exclusively to religious institutions. It's a loophole that ought to be closed; we shouldn't have a situation in which religious groups get proprietorship of decision making regarding such contracts. If government is going to provide any sort of recognition to marriage by way of tax benefits and responsibilities then it is also incumbent upon government to do everything necessary to make marriage itself a governmental, secular function and leave the religious aspect of it as a personal and non-necessary choice. Either that or government should stop recognizing marriage as a special condition and treat everyone equally when it comes to these things, making no distinction for married status. What is going on in Butte and Kern merely points out how government fails in this regard. The door has long been left open for something like this, and it was only a matter of time before someone decided to exploit the situation as it has existed for far too long.

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