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State will process Roseville couple’s marriage form

Lawsuit still pending
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein
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Story updated 2 p.m. Tuesday The honeymoon’s over for Party A and Party B. In a policy reversal, the state this week said it would allow applicants to identify themselves as brides or grooms. That’s a key demand raised by a Roseville couple who last week announced they would sue state and local officials over the existing gender-neutral form. “It is very encouraging for me and Rachel to receive word that our marriage license will be able to be recognized as bride and groom,” said Gideon Codding, whose marriage to Rachel Bird hit a snag when the state kicked back the form, saying it had been altered to include the words bride and groom. The new forms, first reported online by The Press-Tribune, include a checkbox for both partners to mark any combination of bride and groom – or nothing at all – and will be put in use Nov. 17, said Suanne Buggy, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Public Health, which oversees vital records. “You could check bride and groom, bride and bride, groom and groom,” said Buggy. “And it is completely optional if a couple decides they don’t want to check anything at all.” She added the department would process the Roseville couple’s marriage form, which had been rejected after they wrote in the words “bride” and “groom” above the pre-printed “party a” and “party b.” Officials at the time said state law forbids alterations to legal forms. Buggy said the revision followed public opposition to the existing forms that identify marriage applicants in gender-neutral terms, and was not related to the lawsuit, filed last week in Placer County Superior Court. “A lot of Californians have asked that we include an option to identify as a bride or a groom,” Buggy said. “This change has been under way for some time within the department.” The issue received widespread media attention, including in The Press-Tribune, when Codding and Bird refused to apply for the new license using the new form and went public with their complaint, saying the generic reference amounts to a dilution of the state’s recognition of the institution of marriage. The couple was married in a church ceremony in August, but remained unmarried in the eyes of the law. The printed marriage forms were officially changed to read “Party A” and “Party B” following the state Supreme Court decision in June to effectively legalize same-sex marriage. Bird’s father, Doug Bird, chief pastor at Abundant Life Fellowship in Roseville, has even encouraged other couples to protest the form. On Thursday, The Press-Tribune reported online that a conservative legal group was filing a writ of mandamus on the couple’s behalf to force the registrar to process the couple’s marriage license and allow others to amend the form to include the words bride and groom. The lawsuit names Jim McCauley, Placer County Clerk, and Mark Horton, director of the California Dept. of Public Health, as respondents. Despite the agency’s switch, Brad Dacus, president of Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute, said this week the group had no plans to drop its suit. He said he had problems with the timing of the agency’s decision and “sincerity.” “We are pleased that this couple that we are representing, I believe, will get the relief they need,” Dacus said. “But because we’ve potentially won this battle by no means means we’ve won the war.” The group has been using the issue as a rallying cry to generate support for Proposition 8, the November ballot initiative that would amend the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage; on Monday, Dacus continued to push that message, saying the state’s change of heart was an attempt to “weaken” voters’ support for the measure after the marriage form issue garnered attention. “We have nothing binding,” he said. “After the election is over, there’s nothing preventing them from changing their mind and switching back to party a and party b.” For now, Codding and Bird remain officially unmarried. “Rachel still isn’t on my benefits,” Codding said. But he added the state’s decision is a positive move. “It specifies that there’s a bride and a groom,” he said. “Our wish is to be identified as such and it grants us that.”