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June 20, 2008

San Francisco--Proving that love can last forever, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons on June 16 were the first same-sex couple wed in the city again, four years after Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the county clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses.

While the California Supreme Court invalidated those earlier marriage licenses, its decision last month that the ban on same-sex marriage violated the state constitution opened the door for Newsom to once again join Martin, 87, and Lyons, 83, in matrimony.

Most people in the state had to wait until the following morning to get marriage licenses, but the two activists were granted theirs immediately following the end of official business for the day.

The scene of the happy couple was echoed across California, as media swarmed to county clerks’ offices and pairs of partners legally became spouses.

In San Mateo County, Lisa and Beth Shapiro, an Ohio couple, were the first to wed in the county.

“We had not made any plans prior to our arrival here for Beth's schooling,” said Lisa Shapiro, née Lockhart. “It just seemed like such an ideal time to be a part of history.”

The couple had a holy union in February 2006, and announced their one-year anniversary in a milestone in the Gay People’s Chronicle thanking their friends and family for their support.

Robin Tyler, LGBT activist and comedian, and her partner Diane Olson were the first couple to marry in Los Angeles County, mirroring Martin and Lyons in San Francisco.

In what was perhaps the second-most touching display of love in the early hours of marriage in the nation’s most populous state, Contra Costa County Clerk Stephen Weir, who is also the president of the state’s county clerk association, beat reporters and other same-sex couples into his office on June 17 to apply for a marriage license.

After almost two decades of handing out marriage certificates and performing ceremonies, he finally found himself on the other side of the counter. Soon after, he and his partner John Hemm were married by Assistant County Clerk Barbara Chambers, who feared she would slip after performing 5,000 weddings and use gender-specific terms.

As a woman held up a sign saying, “I support my county clerk,” Chambers pronounced Weir and Hemm “partners for life.”

While their nuptials were certainly a high-profile affair, the couple didn’t invite their entire town--like Ellen Pontac and Shelly Bailes of Davis, 15 miles west of Sacramento.

After their marriage in the Yolo County clerk’s office, the two are looking forward to June 21, when they hold their reception, open to any well-wisher.

“We’ve invited the entire town,” said Pontac. “We’re hoping a lot of people will come, but not all 60,000.”

Yolo County’s clerk decided to begin issuing marriage licenses and performing weddings on June 16 at 5:01 pm, putting Bailes and Pontac in the same boat as Martin and Lyons and Tyler and Olson.

Two last-minute attempts to stave off the issuing of marriage licenses both failed as hundreds of couples were saying vows the next day.

Last week, the Liberty Counsel, a Virginia law firm affiliated with Jerry Falwell’s religious empire, filed a motion asserting that the California Supreme Court’s May 15 decision required the appeals court that initially heard the case to make the final order before anyone could marry.

The appeals court refused to step in. The high court, in refusing another delay request last month, had declared June 16 at 5 pm to be the start time.

In the final delay attempt on Monday, five supervisors from Yuba, Stanislaus, Nevada and Sutter counties asked Sacramento Superior Court Judge Patrick Marlette to halt the proceedings because the new, gender-neutral marriage license forms hadn’t had the proper review.

Marlette turned them down Tuesday, saying that they should have filed in the San Francisco Superior Court, where the marriage case originated and where the state’s supreme court is located.

The final chapter has yet to be written in the matter. In the November general election, voters will decide whether to adopt a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The measure would overturn the top court’s ruling and possibly undo thousands of marriages.

That means Californians are headed for a 4½-month campaign in which the anti-gay side will repeat the phrase “traditional marriage” until it loses all meaning and the pro-marriage side will most likely show images of Martin and Lyons and other non-threatening couples.

Support for same-sex marriage in California is strongest in the coastal areas, northern California and in the largest cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Last Wednesday, the parliament of Norway voted to join California, Massachusetts, Belgium, South Africa, Spain, the Netherlands and Canada in allowing full same-sex marriage.

In addition, Rhode Island, New York and Israel will recognize same-sex marriages performed in jurisdictions where they are valid.

 


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