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Gay Weddings Start in California with San Francisco Wedding

By L.K. Regan

Today was the big day on the left coast—the first day same-sex couples were legally married under California's recent state Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay unions. Same-sex marriages became legal at 5pm on Monday, June 16. That is, of course, the end of business hours, so the first full day of weddings will be June 17. A few happy couples got a head start, however, as some county clerks' offices stayed open late on Monday to perform marriages. Here's the run-down on the first hours of same-sex marriage in the nation's most populous state.

In San Francisco, crowds cheered as Mayor Gavin Newsom presided over the county's first same-sex wedding on Monday evening at 5pm. It was Newsom who put California on track to gay marriage by issuing same-sex marriage licenses in February of 2004. Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples flocked to city hall to be married until legal challenges put a stop to the celebrations. The same-sex marriages of 2004 were invalidated by the courts just a month after being performed. So, in celebration of the return of gay marriage to California, Mayor Newsom personally officiated at the wedding of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, a lesbian couple together for 55 years. Lyon, 84, and Martin, 87, were among those married in San Francisco in 2004. Now they're taking the plunge—again.

Lyon and Martin are an important couple in the world of gay advocacy. In 1955 they co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, a social club for San Francisco lesbians that became the nation's first lesbian advocacy group. And, in 1960, the Daughters of Bilitis organized the first national lesbian conference, with 200 registrants. Ever since, Martin and Lyon have advocated for equal rights and legal protections for gays and lesbians, and have become famous figures within the gay community. Although, as Lyon told the San Francisco Chronicle, "We didn't give a damn about getting married. We wanted to get a law that said you can't fire us just because we are gay," they were invited to be among the first couples married in 2004, and to put a face on the same-sex marriages being performed in California. When their marriage was invalidated, they became party to the lawsuit that eventually found its way to the state Supreme Court and, in a May 15 decision, legalized gay and lesbian marriage. This evening, Martin and Lyon returned to City Hall to wed again, in a private ceremony performed in the mayor's office. The recipe for their relationship success? As Lyon told the Chronicle, "You never agree wholeheartedly with everything, but we agreed pretty much with everything. We get along well. And we love each other."

Lyon and Martin were chosen as part of Mayor Newsom's strategy to persuade Californians to reject an anticipated November ballot measure banning same-sex marriages. But his choice to marry one couple after 5 pm on Monday points out the local differences in how marriages will be performed—or not—around California. Across the state, county offices have had to decide whether and when to perform same-sex weddings. Many, though by no means all, county clerks' offices stayed open late on Monday evening to allow eager couples to get a head start on the expected onslaught of weddings. Of course, some outcomes have been negative; in Kern County, in the Central Valley, County Clerk decided to stop performing marriages all-together, in an effort to avoid having to participate in same-sex weddings. She will, however, nonetheless have to hand out the state's new marriage licenses, which have been altered to say "Party A" and "Party B" where once was written "Bride" and "Groom." On the flip side of the coin, County Clerk Stephen Weir of Contra Costa County, in the San Francisco Bay Area, will be invoking executive privilege to open his office early on June 17 and be part of his county's very first same-sex weddings—with himself as groom. Weir plans to marry his partner, John Hemm, as part of an anticipated flood of same-sex weddings on Tuesday.

This is, of course, only the very beginning of the wave of marriages anticipated in the state. California is the one of only two states with legal same-sex marriages (the other being Massachusetts) and the only one to allow out-of-state residents to enter such unions. With half of the state's 102,000 same-sex couples expected to marry within the next three years, according to a study conducted by UCLA and reported by the AFP, and with tens of thousands of out-of-state couples anticipated to travel to wed in California as well, the boosts in taxes, tourism, and the wedding industry will be in the multi-millions of dollars. And it all began Monday night at 5 pm, in clerks' offices across the state.