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More gays, lesbians marry on eve of court hearing

Injunction request Tuesday could halt stream of newlyweds

Anne Marie McMartin, left, and Brittany McMartin celebrate after they were married at City Hall in San Francisco on Monday.
Anne Marie McMartin, left, and Brittany McMartin celebrate after they were married at City Hall in San Francisco on Monday.

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CNN's Miguel Marquez reports on gay and lesbian couples rushing to marry in San Francisco before a court challenge is heard.
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As San Francisco churns out licenses, a conservative group heads to court to try to block them.
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Same-sex marriages
San Francisco (California)

SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- By noon Monday, 140 couples -- nearly all of them gays or lesbians -- had married at City Hall, and a city worker vowed that the day's total would rise to 650 before the weddings stop at 8 p.m.

As couples emerged from the rotunda into a chilly drizzle at a rate of more than one per minute, they were greeted with showers of rice, flower petals and applause from hundreds of well-wishers.

Inside, County Assessor and Recorder Mabel Teng -- whose signature makes the marriage certificates legal -- thanked those waiting for their patience.

"I want to thank you for bringing so much joy and love to City Hall," she said. "For those of you who tied a knot, congratulations. May you have a lifetime of happiness together."

It was the fifth consecutive day that gays and lesbians have lined up to get marriage licenses before a court challenge to try to stop the same-sex marriages is heard Tuesday.

Each couple paid $82 for a marriage application and a $13 license fee in exchange for the certificate.

On a typical day, only about 30 couples marry in City Hall, Teng said. That changed last week, when Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered that licenses be granted to same-sex couples.

The mayor cited the state constitution that bars discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation. But a court challenge has been mounted based on a 2000 ballot initiative approved by voters that declares California recognizes only marriages between a man and woman.

Newsom also ordered City Hall to stay open through the weekend and Monday -- which is Presidents Day, a federal holiday -- to accommodate as many couples as possible.

On Sunday, 487 couples were married, bringing the total since Thursday to more than 1,600. If Monday's goal is met, the total will exceed 2,250 -- all of them married by city officials who volunteered their time over the holiday weekend.

"It's purely out of love and commitment to equal rights," Teng said.

The rained-on parade may screech to a halt Tuesday. At 11 a.m. (2 p.m. ET), San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Kevin McCarthy is slated to hear an injunction request from a group opposed to same-sex marriage.

A second request is to be heard at 2 p.m. (5 p.m. ET) by Judge James Warren, who asked that briefs be filed Monday in the case.

It was not clear whether either judge would void the licenses that have been issued, simply stop granting more of them or allow them to continue. One legal expert said that, because so many of those tying the knot are from outside California, the case could wind up in federal court.

Because San Francisco does not require proof of residency, couples have come from across the country. Thirty-six states prohibit same-sex marriage. Teng said 85 percent of the couples were from the Bay Area.

James Parker of Mobile, Alabama, who had just married Eric Oliver, his companion of five years, said he was not worried that their certificate would be voided.

"If it doesn't stick this time, it will -- eventually," he said. Either way, he added, "It was the best feeling you could ever have."

Warren rejected a motion Friday to issue a temporary restraining order against the city, saying the group requesting it -- the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund -- had given insufficient notice of the request.

The Alliance Defense Fund and the Campaign for California Families argue Newsom's action violates California law.

"Our case is going full-steam ahead to rescue the vote of 4.6 million Californians from Mayor Gavin Newsom's abusive power," said Richard Ackerman, co-counsel for CCF, in a written statement posted on the group's Web site. "The renegade mayor of San Francisco is openly violating California law that holds marriage is only for a man and a woman."

The issuing of the licenses in San Francisco began as lawmakers in Massachusetts debated a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. After a third attempt to pass the measure failed Thursday, the Legislature recessed its constitutional convention until March 11, when it is expected to take up the issue again. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ordered the Legislature to allow gays to marry by May.

The issue also spilled into the political arena during Monday night's debate among the five Democratic presidential candidates.

Asked if he would vote for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said it would depend on the terminology, and said the decision should be up to individual states.

"I, personally, believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. But I also believe that we ought to be able to not let marriage and the concept get in the way of respecting the rights of people to be able to visit a partner in a hospital, to be able to pass on property, to be able to live under the equal protection clause of the United States."

Peter Ragone, spokesman for the mayor's office, said Newsom contacted some state and federal officials to inform them of his decision.

Their reaction?

"There have been some sighs on the phone, but they realize that we're doing this for equality of everyone," Ragone said.

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