The glowing faces of the newlyweds, hundreds of newlyweds, filled news reports over the weekend after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay on California's same-sex weddings Friday afternoon and an attempt to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene failed. There almost certainly will be new legal challenges, but the era of Proposition 8 is, for practical intents and purposes, over.
San Francisco, long a welcoming city for gays and lesbians, kept its offices open so that couples who had waited years no longer had to postpone their nuptials. On Monday, all county clerks opened for business. By the time Proposition 8's supporters can mount further court challenges, which legal experts see as having almost no chance of success, same-sex marriage will be a widespread reality.
That doesn't mean the days ahead will be without conflict. During the months in 2008 when same-sex marriage was briefly legal, before Proposition 8 passed, for example, there were problems with a few counties deciding that clerks and other employees who normally officiate at weddings would not be required to perform same-sex weddings if their religious or personal convictions were at odds with such duties. The state must make clear that no such obstruction will be tolerated.
It is completely within the rights of clergy to refuse to perform the weddings, of course. Government entities in California must now recognize and extend equal rights to same-sex marriages, but that requirement does not extend to religions, their houses of worship or their ministers. One of the many untruths spread during the Proposition 8 campaign was that churches would be required to perform such ceremonies if the initiative failed.
Public employees performing a public job in a public setting are another matter, even if officiating at same-sex weddings is uncomfortable for some of them. Job descriptions and work requirements change; employees who don't want to meet the new requirements are better off looking for a new post. Obviously, it would be illegal for a clerk's office to refuse to wed a gay or lesbian couple, but it also would be embarrassing and discriminatory for an employee to perform ceremony after ceremony for heterosexual couples and then run off to find someone else to do the honors when a same-sex couple arrives.
The rejection of Proposition 8 won't magically change all minds. But this new right to wed also will not upend traditional marriage; things should settle down once that becomes obvious. California was, sadly, not one of the first states to allow same-sex marriage, but the past can't be allowed to dim the joy throughout the state this week. Now all couples, of the same or opposite genders, can go about the happy business of forming stable families and squabbling over whose turn it is to clean up after dinner.