Same-Sex Marriages Begin in California
By Jesse McKinley / June 17, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO — With a series of simple “I dos,” gay couples across California inaugurated the state’s court-approved and potentially short-lived legalization of same-sex marriage on Monday, the first of what is expected to be a crush of such unions in coming weeks.
The weddings began in a handful of locations around the state at exactly 5:01 p.m., the earliest time allowed by last month’s decision by the California Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. Many more ceremonies will be held on Tuesday when all 58 counties will be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In San Francisco, Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 84, longtime gay rights activists, were the first and only couple to be wed here, saying their vows in the office of Mayor Gavin Newsom, before emerging to a throng of reporters and screaming well-wishers.
Ms. Martin and Ms. Lyon, who have been together for more than 50 years, seemed touched, if a little amazed by all the attention.
“When we first got together we weren’t thinking about getting married,” Ms. Lyon said before cutting a wedding cake. “I think it’s a wonderful day.”
Outside City Hall, several hundred supporters and protesters chanted, cheered and jeered in equal measure, giving an unruly carnival feel to the scene, complete with a marching band playing wedding songs and signs reading “Homo Sex is Sin.”
In Oakland, across the bay from San Francisco, Mayor Ron Dellums presided over more than a dozen marriages in the City Council chambers, which had been transformed into a de facto wedding chapel, with stands of flowers and a standing-room-only crowd.
In Sonoma County, the wine-rich region north of here, 18 couples were scheduled to be wed on Monday, including Chris Lechman, 37, and Mark Gren, 42, who called to book their nuptials shortly after the court’s decision.
“We’ve been on pins and needles,” said Mr. Lechman, who celebrated the 15th anniversary of meeting Mr. Gren on Monday. “We are thrilled to be part of history.”
Janice Atkinson, the Sonoma County clerk, said her office would stay open late for the rest of the month to accommodate what she expected would be a heavy load of same-sex weddings.
On Sunday, Ms. Atkinson and staff members were at a gay pride celebration in Sonoma handing out applications for marriage licenses to prospective newlyweds.
“We’re expecting some very happy couples,” she said. “And a lot of media.”
The selection of Ms. Martin and Ms. Lyon as San Francisco’s first same-sex couple was symbolic; the couple wed here in 2004, when the city broke state law by issuing more than 4,000 marriage licenses and conducting weddings in City Hall. Those marriages were later invalidated by the state Supreme Court.
On May 15, however, the same court struck down the two California laws that prohibited such unions, opening the door for California to becomes the second, and largest, American state to legalize same-sex marriage. Massachusetts did so in 2004, and more than 10,500 couples have wed there.
Same-sex marriage has been hotly contested nationwide and state by state in the courts and at the ballot box, and California is no exception.
Voters in the state will decide a ballot measure in November that would effectively overturn the court’s decision by defining marriage as “between a man and a woman.”
Forty-four states already have some sort of legal barrier — either a law or constitutional amendment — barring such unions. In 2004 alone, 13 states passed ballot measures banning same-sex marriage.
This year, however, supporters have found encouragement in both the California Supreme Court decision and in a subsequent order by Gov. David A. Paterson of New York to force his state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages from elsewhere. The California court has also rebuffed several challenges to its May 15 decision made by two conservative legal groups and Republican attorneys general who fear that the marriages will cause legal challenges to be brought in their own states.
One legal challenge was filed last week by the Liberty Counsel, a group based in Florida that wants the California Court of Appeal to halt the weddings to allow the State Legislature time to work out discrepancies in marriage law created by the state Supreme Court’s decision.
Mathew D. Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said Monday’s ceremonies “make a mockery of marriage.”
“Marriage has traditionally been known, across continents and all geographical regions, as between a man and a woman,” said Mr. Staver, who is 51 and married. “Marriage between the same sex may be some sort of union, but it’s certainly not marriage.”
There has also been some local opposition to the ceremonies. In rural Kern County, north of Los Angeles, the county clerk has canceled all weddings performed by her office, a position she took after consulting with the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona legal group that argues against marriage for gay men and lesbians. Weddings at the county clerk’s office — long an affordable, no-frills option for couples — have also been called off in Butte County, north of Sacramento, the state capital.
In more liberal parts of the state, however, the weddings were being warmly embraced.
In Beverly Hills, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson also married, saying their vows under a chuppah on the steps of the city’s courthouse. The ceremony was solemnized by a rabbi, Denise Eger.
“Great floods cannot dampen your love,” Rabbi Eger said. “Your courage brought you here today.”
Carolyn Marshall contributed reporting from San Francisco and Oakland, and Rebecca Cathcart from Beverly Hills.
Source. / New York Times
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