You Are Now Pronounced Party A And Party B

GENERIC: California, Gay, Marriage, Union, Homosexual, Same Sex
CBS/AP
Even for a state used to earthquakes, the California Supreme Court's decision last month to legalize same sex marriage was a jolt. But even as gay couples make plans to wed this week, opponents say tradition should - and will - be restored. Our cover story is reported now by John Blackstone:


In the cheery rotunda of San Francisco's City Hall … always a great place for a wedding … it's a moment of calm before the storm.

Tomorrow this grand old building will reaffirm its place at the epicenter of the same-sex marriage debate, with what's likely to be the very first legal gay wedding in California performed by San Francisco's mayor Gavin Newsom.

"I don't know what's the big deal at the end of the day to allow people to be treated fairly," Newsom said. "My gosh, what more American value is there than that?"

But American values have generally viewed marriage as joining a man and a woman. Thirty days ago in California that all changed.

Gay couples cheered and began making wedding plans when, in a 4-3 decision, the California Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on gay marriage.

When the ruling takes effect at one minute after 5 tomorrow afternoon, California becomes the only state besides Massachusetts where it's legal to marry someone of the same sex.

For Mayor Newsom it was an unexpected victory in a controversial movement he unleashed in 2004 when he authorized the City Hall marriage of one couple, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, both in their 80s, together more than 50 years.

"I never imagined that at 9:01 when the courts opened after we had married that couple, that they didn't shut us down," Newsom said. "And another couple got married."

As the word spread, dozens and then hundreds of same-sex couples showed up at City Hall, to get licenses and get married.

"And then all of a sudden, 4,036 couples from literally 46 states and 18 countries came together over the course of a month, and then there was a different energy and a different expectation," Newsom said.

Finally the State Supreme Court ordered it to stop. Some couples, who were waiting in line for their chance at marriage, were crushed.

Now the lines will begin again. And not just in San Francisco, but at city halls and county offices across the state.

"There are thousands and thousands, and thousands of couples that want to see their lives affirmed," Newsom said, "but the fact is we're gonna be fine. This is all going to be okay."

For many gay couples, that's an understatement. Some of the more high profile marriage seekers include Ellen Degeneres, who publicly came out on TV more than a decade ago. She announced her intention to wed actress Portia de Rossi.

Actor George Takei, best known as Mr. Sulu on "Star Trek," plans to wed his partner of 21 years, Brad Altman.

Blackstone asked Takei what was the reaction in his household when the news of the Supreme Court decision came.

"We didn't know about it," Takei said, "and we were having a bite to eat in the kitchen over there. And I think I bit into a sandwich when the word came down.

"And all of a sudden Brad fell down to the floor. I mean, he got down on his knees. And I said, you know with my mouth full of food, 'What are you doing?' And he was on his knees and said, 'George, will you marry me?' And I said, 'Darn it! I meant to ask you. You beat me to it!'"

"I just want to be a part of the mainstream American society, which I am," Altman said. "But I don't want to feel like I'm a second-class citizen - That I can have a domestic partnership but I can't have a marriage."

Opponents of same-sex marriage say marriage is much more than a word; it's an important concept with only one meaning.

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"By definition marriage is the union of a man and a woman, said Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (left).

He is among those urging Californians to vote in November for a constitutional amendment to again ban same-sex marriage.

"Now what's gonna happen in the interim?" Brown said. "Likely all the effects we've seen around the country - parents being taught they have no say in what their kids are taught in school, and that Johnny needs to be taught that it's the exact same thing to grow up and marry Jimmy as it is to marry Mary, that there's no distinction at all. That's what the law now says."

Brown says the state supreme court improperly overturned the will of the people. In 2000 California voters approved a measure declaring that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California".

But California does recognize domestic partnerships. Arguing against gay marriage, the state attorney general said domestic partners have rights equal to those of married couples, just under a different name. The state supreme court however ruled that "separate but equal" is not equal.

A CBS News poll conducted last week found that a majority of Americans - 58 percent - support some form of legal recognition for same sex couples. But many still don't want that to be called "marriage."

Twenty-eight percent approve of civil unions, 30 percent for allowing gay couples to marry - the highest number since CBS began asking that question in 2004.

Massachussetts issues same-sex marriage licenses only for residents. Since California has no residency requirement, gay couples from across the country are expected to head west - and then go home to an uncertain legal future.

Right now, 44 states have laws or constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. Eight states do provide some spousal rights to same-sex partners, but only New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

"So this is something that's gonna challenge a lot of people," Newsom said. "But I think when they realize that this is really about humanity, this is about human love and expression, it's nothing more than that, then they'll soften. And they'll understand. 'You know what? It's okay. Let's move on to other things.'"

But the opposition in California is strong…

Citizens in Kern County lined up to show their support for County Clerk Ann Barnett. She dodged a reporter's questions after announcing that her office will no longer perform wedding ceremonies. It's an issue several county clerks in California are wrestling with.

Even the most ardent supporters of the new law say it's going to be, well, different.

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Blackstone asked Contra Costa County Clerk Steve Weir (left) what was changed about the marriage application.

"Well, instead of 'bride and groom,' it's 'party A and party B.'"

"That's not very romantic!" Blackstone said.

Weir, who said he plans to be the first in line at his own office Tuesday morning to marry his longtime partner, John Hemm ("I will be 'party B'") admitted, "Yeah, it's not very romantic. It's just the way it is. I'm doing it for the ceremony. I'm doing it for the public ritual, which I believe in.

"I like to see people go to the polls to vote because it's a ritual, and I like for people to declare their love for each other and also have some responsibility, and some benefits that come from it, and we're looking forward to all of that."

For the 18 years Weir and Hemm have been together, the closest they got to a marriage ceremony was a staged photo, taken after one too many cocktails. Hemm was wearing white.

"I was just waiting for the time when you could just do it like everybody else does in the world, you just go down to City Hall or to the county clerk's office, get the paperwork done, and not make anything different or special," Hemms aid. "You know, some people in the world want it to be different. They want to be able to point that finger and say, you know, 'Oh, there go those gay people again, making a spectacle of themselves.' No, it's just like anybody else."

But it's not like anybody else, says Brian Brown. To him, gay marriage is an attempt to normalize something that isn't normal at all.

What's normal for George Takei is a world that's ever changing.

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"People change," he said. "There was a time when there was no role for women in the institutions of American society. And the strongest contender against the African-American candidate was a woman. People have changed.

"And I know that people can change. Because I grew up behind the barbwire fences of American interment camps. That was in my lifetime. And here I am now, a popular actor, supported by many, many people throughout the country. America changes. America is made up of decent people."

But when the weddings begin again in California, some decent people will see only indecency.

Though that is not likely to diminish the joy for those who thought marriage could never be theirs.