More California couples tied the knot in July following the U.S. Supreme Court's historic ruling allowing same-sex marriages in the state than in any other month since 2006, according to new data.
Statistics from the California Department of Public Health show nearly 30,800 couples received marriage licenses in California in July, a 35 percent increase over July 2012. The data suggest that gay couples rushed by the thousands to purchase marriage licenses after the high court's decisions paving the way for the legalization of same-sex nuptials in California and for federal recognition of them in Washington.
But pinning down just how many of the 30,000 new marriages involved same-sex couples is tricky because California doesn't make a distinction between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages.
"The marriage applications don't ask about the gender so we don't have that information," health department spokesman Matt Conens said.
However, the health department's numbers also show a spike upward in June 2008 — by 12 percent — when the California Supreme Court first struck down the state's ban on gay marriage, just before the passage of Proposition 8 again temporarily restored it.
Demographic researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, also point out that a large proportion of the same-sex couples in a given state often choose to marry soon after those marriages are recognized.
Gary Gates, a UCLA scholar who specializes in the demographics of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender populations, cites a November 2011 study published by colleagues the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute.
"About 30 percent of existing same-sex couples in a state would be married within the first year after marriage was legalized," Gates said. "Within three years, it was about half."
Compared to the 30 percent of same-sex couples who married within the first year in states that allowed it, the study reported, only 18 percent of gay couples entered into "civil unions or broad domestic partnerships." And only 8 percent of same-sex couples entered into other "legal relationship statuses with limited rights."
The researchers concluded that same-sex couples seem to "prefer marriage over other non-marital legal statuses," like civil unions and domestic partnerships because "it comes with an important symbolic meaning in our society."
At the time of the 2011 study, marriage data was available for only three states: Iowa, Massachusetts and Vermont. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have now legalized same-sex marriage.
Gates said the final tally of gay couples marrying in California may turn out to be higher than 30 percent in the first year because there's much more at stake now, including many federal tax benefits.
"You're not just getting California recognition," he said. "You're getting federal recognition."