WASHINGTON — In the week since Arizona’s bans on same-sex marriage were overturned, clerks in all 15 of the state’s counties say they have issued at least one marriage license to same-sex couples.
Not all counties have kept track of licenses to same-sex as opposed to opposite-sex couples, but it appears about 300 of the newly legal licenses had been issued in the first few days after the court ruling.
That means that state coffers have benefited along with same-sex couples: At $76 a pop, licenses to those couples had already brought in an estimated $20,000 or more in fees.
While the court ruling was a victory for gay-rights advocates, it was quickly attacked by groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, which last week called it “a terrible decision” that it vowed to fight.
One of its first post-ban actions was a memo to county clerks throughout Arizona informing them that they have the right to deny issuing licenses to same-sex couples for religious reasons and instructing them in how to do it.
But for the majority of clerks, the memo seems to have gone unheeded.
Evan Wolfson, president of the national marriage-equality organization Freedom to Marry, said he has “not heard of any clerk disrespecting their oath and their job duty” by refusing to issue a license.
However, one clerk in Maricopa County requested to be transferred to a different position last week in order to avoid issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples due to her religious beliefs.
Maricopa County officials, who said they issue 98 marriage licenses on an average day, issued 292 licenses on Friday, Oct. 17 and another 184 on Monday — a net increase of 280 licenses over the regular volume. They did not immediately have numbers for the rest of this week.
The Williams Institute, a California-based think tank, estimated that 7,909 same-sex couples would marry in Arizona in the first three years of the state’s ban being lifted. That would bring in more than $600,000 in license fees to the state if the numbers held true.
But the Williams Institute said the greater tax benefit would come from wedding spending by same-sex couples. Once taxes are collected on spending for things like wedding festivities and out-of-town guests, the take could reach more than $5 million for the state during the three-year period, according to its estimate.
The institute based its June estimate on 2010 Census data, the American Community Survey and other data sources.
Last week’s ruling followed a rapid series of court decisions that have led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in more than 30 states so far.
On Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down appeals of five rulings from lower courts that had voided bans on same-sex marriage in different states. The next day, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned bans in Nevada and Idaho.
U.S. District Judge John Sedwick cited the circuit court’s ruling and gave parties in two different cases challenging Arizona’s same-sex marriage bans several days to argue why he should not overturn the ban.
On Oct. 16, he ruled that an amendment to the Arizona Constitution and two state laws banning same-sex marriage were unconstitutional violations of equal protection.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said Oct. 17 he disagreed with the ruling but would not challenge it, saying the higher courts’ rulings made an appeal an “exercise in futility.”
“The only purpose served by filing another appeal would be to waste the taxpayer’s money,” Horne said then. “That is not a good conservative principle.”
Same-sex couples started heading to courthouses in Arizona to get married that afternoon.
While opponents have vowed to keep fighting, supporters say they are confident same-sex marriage in Arizona is here to stay.
“The gays aren’t using up all the marriage licenses,” Wolfson said. “There is plenty of room for marriage for all.”