County clerk’s explanation unconvincing

Timing of decision to end marriage ceremonies undermines office’s credibility on other issues

You don’t need to be a long-time reader of the CN&R to figure out which side we’re on when it comes to gay marriage and equal rights for all. We applaud the recent California Supreme Court decision affirming the right of same-sex couples to wed—and shake our heads in disbelief that such marriages can’t take place in our county clerk-recorder’s office.

To be clear, Butte County isn’t preventing gays and lesbians from marrying, nor is it giving special treatment to heterosexuals. It will issue licenses for both and conduct ceremonies for neither. The inescapable conclusion, however, is the county made this policy with one group in mind.

Clerk-Recorder Candace Grubbs welcomed weddings on Valentine’s Day—invited them, in fact. Yet, just a few months later, her office couldn’t accommodate couples on their special day … any day, June 17 or later.

Grubbs cited budgetary factors, certainly a concern in these lean times. Fine: Increase the fee. Unlike the registrar part of her office, the clerk-recorder operation gets funding from monies paid by applicants. Nearly every other county in the state has found a way to offer marriage ceremonies; why not Butte?

Grubbs has chalked up the timing to coincidence, saying this change has been in the works since March, when she prepared her 2008-09 budget. Fair enough: We await the response to our public-records request for documents to verify that timeline.

It would be easy to vilify Grubbs the way others have, here and elsewhere, by reflex. We’ll just stick to a possible consequence: an erosion of confidence.

In her role as registrar, Grubbs asks county citizens to accept electronic voting, in direct opposition to Secretary of State Debra Bowen. Grubbs recently assured us that touch-screen machines “aren’t hooked into anything; the only ones who program ’em are us” (meaning her staff). In other words: This is a safe leap of faith.

Grubbs has overseen all elections, including those for clerk-recorder/ registrar, for 21 years, and is conspicuously conservative (dare we say Republican?) in a nonpartisan office. And yet, she’s given us no reason to question her integrity, nor her pledge to count every vote that’s legally cast.

We hope this marriage explanation that strains the seams of believability does not rip a hole in the credibility of her office.