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31 days after ruling, same-sex couples can now say 'spouse,' but Prop. 8 clouds future

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It began with fanfare -- a noisy, jubilant and public civil ceremony he and his partner shared with dozens of couples, supporters and media on the historic evening it became legal for gays and lesbians to marry in the state.

A month, a day and more than 200 local same-sex marriages later, change has set in quietly, said Santa Rosa attorney Jim Eimers, 60.

He had been committed to Rob Wulff, 62, for nearly three decades when they married June 16. They already owned a house together in Santa Rosa. And they already were domestic partners, so their benefits didn't change when they married.

But, for the first time, Eimers can call him, "my spouse."

"How many songs are there about 'registered domestic partners?' " Eimers said. " 'Spouse' is universal. It's different, no matter what anybody says."

And it is a label now on the lips of thousands of gay and lesbian couples who have been married in the 31 days since the state Supreme Court's ruling redefining marriage took effect.

Employees are still working overtime at the Sonoma County Clerk's Office, where from June 16 to June 30 alone, 108 same-sex couples were married and at least 100 more received their licenses and wed elsewhere.

In Mendocino County, which issued just 78 total marriage licenses in June, 15 of those were to same-sex couples on June 17 alone, the first full day their nuptials were legal, said Sue Ranochak, the clerk-recorder.

County coffers are reaping the benefits of same-sex marriages, said chief deputy county clerk Vicki Petersen.

Her office's June survey of 45 counties in the state reported $272,798 more in revenue from marriage license and ceremony fees than the previous June.

"It's huge. We've been crushed with a lot of business," Petersen said, and that has also helped make up for a three-year decline in marriages.

At the same time, opposing sides of Proposition 8 are gearing up for a fierce fight. The proposed state constitutional amendment would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Worries around the ballot outcome seem to be stalling a windfall of marriage-related business, said Cosette Trautman-Scheiber, owner of the Hope-Merrill and Hope-Bosworth B&B's in Geyserville.

"It appears like everybody is still waiting," she said.

The state Supreme Court refused Wednesday to hear a case to remove the initiative from the Nov. 4 ballot, which if approved would overturn the court's May 15 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

Opponents had sued June 19 to block a vote on Proposition 8. Locals opposed to the initiative meet tonight in Larkspur.

About 100 attended a town hall meeting in Santa Rosa on Tuesday, said Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Kendell had told the crowd the marriages taking place before November would remain legal even if, "under a worst-case scenario," the initiative passes.

Sonoma is a key county, she said, because of its significant gay and lesbian population and its 2000 vote against Proposition 22, which passed statewide and defined marriage as for heterosexuals only.

The tide appears to have shifted in the years since, as indicated by a recent Field Poll showing slim majority supporting same-sex marriage. Kendell said a "vigorous" campaign with TV ads is soon to come.

"We don't believe the initiative will pass, and we are going to make every effort to ensure that it does not pass," she said.

The Sonoma County Republican Central Committee plans to do just the opposite, said its chairman, Michael Erickson. It plans to vote today to endorse Proposition 8, he said.

Erickson said he expects the issue will likely "enhance the Republican vote" in the state.

"We will be making literally tens of thousands of phone calls. We have volunteers for precinct walking, including handouts in support of the proposition, and we'll be reaching out to faith communities," he said.

Such efforts are part of the reason why Michelle Wing, 45, said she and Sabrina Temple, 52, chose to marry in June.

"We wanted to do it while it was legal," Wing said.

They live in Cloverdale and stood in line June 17 at the Sonoma County Clerk's Office to pay the $75 for their license.

Two weeks later, they were married at the Russian River Zendo Buddhist center.

They plan to move to New Mexico soon, Wing said, and while their marriage won't be recognized there, they wanted to marry to "take that next step, to further legitimize it on a personal and political level."

New York is the only state so far to recognize same-sex couples married out-of-state.

Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage for its residents, voted Tuesday to repeal a law that prevents it from marrying out-of-state couples. It is expected to pass the House later this week.

State officials there are expecting a multimillion-dollar benefit, echoing California's.

A report from the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy projects that same-sex couples could spend about $684 million on weddings in California over the next three years.

"In a recession, any extra business is great," said Lynette McLean, owner of Highlands Resort in Guerneville.

She's had a handful of same-sex bookings so far and said many gay and lesbian couples have had to change their dates to accommodate relatives.

"They're running into the same problem straight couples have had forever," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Shadi Rahimi at 521-5280 or shadi.rahimi@pressdemocrat.com

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