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Same-sex couple denied marriage license during "Freedom to Marry Day" action at San Diego County Clerk's office

SAN DIEGO – Although the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld a lower court’s ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, the annual “Freedom to Marry Day” went on as planned today since same-sex marriage is still not allowed in California.

For several years, marriage equality activists across the United States have visited marriage counters in their cities to request marriage licenses as same-sex couples. In most cases they are denied by clerks who are armed with talking points citing the law which bars marriage other than that between a man and a woman.

Approximately 20 people turned up at the San Diego County Administration Building on a chilly Valentine’s Day morning, for a short 8 am demonstration before same-sex couple, Jersey Deutsch and Loren Parish, went up to the County Clerk’s Office for a 9 am marriage license appointment.

Sean Bohac, one of the event’s organizers, said that the local action was coordinated by Canvass for A Cause, San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality, Marriage Equality USA, and San Diego Pride.

After an hour of holding up signs on the east side of the building along Pacific Highway, the group, escorted by an officer from the sheriff’s department, headed into the building yelling chants such as:

"Judge Walker spoke, marry us now!"
"Justice delayed is justice denied!"
"What’s the point of Valentine’s Day? They won’t marry us anyway."

Deutsch and Parish made it up to the building’s second floor just in time for their appointment, where several opposite-sex couples, many dressed in traditional wedding attire, waited in the adjoining hallway with their families for their appointments.

The couple was escorted to the clerk’s counter, along with their two best friends and a handful of media. After filling out the marriage license application, the clerk informed Deutsch and Parish that state law does not permit same-sex couples to get married at this time.

When questioned about the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the clerk, who seemed visibly uncomfortable having to deny the couple’s request, answered that it is her office’s job to “follow the law.”

Minutes later, Detusch and Parish returned to the hallway where the group of protestors were waiting. When informed that the license request was denied, the group began chanting as they exited into the stairwell and out of the building.

While Deutsch said that she was not expecting to be granted a marriage license today, she said, "I never felt more closeted than I did today,” as she watched opposite-sex couples walk out of the same office with marriage licenses in hand.

New this year was the addition of the sheriff’s department personnel who stayed with the group throughout the action.

Fernando Lopez, a marriage equality activist who organized the event in previous years, said he does not recall an officer from the sheriff’s department ever being assigned to the event.

A spokeswoman from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said that the assignment was only made to help the activists, whom the county has come to expect each year.

"The mission of the personnel at the County Administration Center this morning was to mediate and act as a conduit for the protestors," said the spokeswoman. "The lead on scene advised he facilitated and coordinated through the metal detectors and provided directions to the floor where the marriage licenses were issued. Our mission was to be courteous, helpful, sensitive, protect individual rights and ensure personal safety.”

The sergeant on scene said, "This is a sensitive issue and I wanted to both help and protect them.”

No incidents were reported throughout the course of the event, which ended with a brief program back on the east side of the building, where activists shared personal stories about the affects of Proposition 8 on their lives.