Friday, June 06, 2008

It's Not Your Kern Yet

When I first noticed this story about how Kern County has decided to stop performing ALL marriages at the county courthouse, something didn't sound right to me. The reason given was, "lack of staff and space." I can't imagine the county clerk's staff is busy all day every day performing weddings. And don't they charge for that service? If they weren't charging enough to cover costs, why not simply raise the fee?

It just sounded fishy to me, like a cover up. Turns out, I was right. The Kern County Auditor-Controller-County Clerk, Ann Barnett is morally opposed to same-sex marriage and wanted to find a way to not have her office perform them. She tried to resign as county clerk, but remain as auditor and controller, but apparently the county was having none of that.

So, citing space and budget concerns, she ordered all marriages to stop as of Friday, June 13th, the Friday before the Monday when same-sex marriage will be legal in California.

Knowing that this could result in legal action, Barnett fired off an e-mail to the Alliance Defense Fund, an anti-same-sex marriage organization:

"Sent June 4, 2008 at 11:19 a.m.

From: Glenn Spencer (the Assistant Auditor-Controller-County Clerk)

To: Holly Estes

Subject: RE: Will You Provide Legal Assistance?

Holly, I also left a phone message for Brian, but I imagine he may be very busy right now. Our question is, now that the Supreme Court has refused to stay its decision, will Alliance Defense Fund defend the County Clerk if she ceases performing all marriage ceremonies as of 5:00 pm on June 16th? We have the news media calling for her response, and we need to issue a news release today, but she really needs to be assured of your legal assistance before she speaks to them, as we fully expect to be sued and our own counsel is not being of help. Thanks."

However, according to the story, performing weddings seems like it would be a profit center for the county:

"Records obtained from the clerk’s office for April and May of 2008 shed some light on whether wedding ceremonies are a financial drain on the county, as the press release claims. The county clerk’s office charges $30 for every ceremony it performs. In April and May the office performed 299 marriage ceremonies, according to records. That’s income — over two months — of $8,970. At that rate, it appears the county brings in more than $50,000 a year from performing marriages, before costs are figured into the equation.

An analysis of the pay of the county staff who perform the ceremonies puts the revenue into context. The top average hourly pay for an office services specialist — one of the classifications that conducts the weddings — is around $19.20 an hour, based on county salary charts. A marriage ceremony conducted Thursday took seven minutes to perform.

Barnett’s press release also stated that the county does not have the space to deal with increased ceremonies. But her office currently has two separate wedding rooms set aside for the marriage ceremonies."

I don't think this can last long.

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