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California county clerk won’t officiate at weddings

Sat., June 7, 2008

Kern County Clerk Ann Barnett has announced that her office will stop performing all weddings a few days before June 17, the date that same-sex couples can legally apply for marriage licenses.

Barnett’s staff processes marriage licenses for hundreds of Kern County residents each year, and it will continue to do so, for both straight and gay couples, beginning on June 17 as required by law, she said in a written statement. But as of June 13, the staff will no longer officiate at civil ceremonies for an extra $30 fee.

Officials cited financial reasons for the decision. But an internal memo between a high-ranking official in her office and a conservative Christian legal defense fund, published in the Bakersfield Californian this week, indicate that Barnett may have acted on principle, rather than for financial reasons.

As Barnett, who holds an elected office, prepared to make her decision public on Wednesday, an assistant clerk in her office sent an e-mail to attorneys at the Alliance Defense Fund asking if its lawyers would defend her in court if she “ceases performing all marriage ceremonies.”

“We have the news media calling for her response, and we need to issue a news release today, but she really needs to be assured of your legal assistance before she speaks to them, as we fully expect to be sued and our own counsel is not being of help,” the e-mail from Assistant Clerk Glenn Spencer said, as reported by the Californian.

Brian Raum, a senior attorney for Alliance Defense Fund, confirmed that Barnett’s office has sought out his group, calling the e-mails a “routine request for legal advice.” If Barnett needs legal protection, his group will provide it, Raum said. The Alliance Defense Fund recently asked the California Supreme Court to stay the marriage ruling, which the court refused to do.

“The Alliance Defense Fund is prepared to defend any clerk who exercises his or her right not to perform wedding ceremonies under California law,” he said.

The Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, was founded in 1994 by James Dobson of Focus on the Family and other Christian ministers.

Shannon Price Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he didn’t have a problem with Barnett’s decision as long as she applied it evenly.

“They are providing marriage licenses to everyone, and they are not performing weddings for anyone,” Minter said. “So there is no discrimination.”


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