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Couples Say "I
Do" as Marriage Equality Becomes Legal

Couples Say "I
Do" as Marriage Equality Becomes Legal

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From the gay meccas of San Francisco and West Hollywood to the smaller enclaves of Laguna Hills, gay and lesbian couples throughout California exchanged vows on Tuesday.

Every morning, Bob Lehman and Tom Felkner put on their wedding bands and say "With this ring, I thee wed" to each other. It was their way of cementing a bond that society wouldn't recognize.

Shortly after 7 a.m. yesterday morning, they said it once again. And this time, it finally counted.

Lehman and Felkner were the first same-sex couple to be married in San Diego, California's second-largest city. As the day went along, hundreds of couples joined them in front of gleeful crowds at the Golden State's courthouses, city halls and government offices.

"Hey, everyone, we're getting married!" yelled Jeffrey Halpern and Hank Donat as they squeaked past the media to become the first couple of the day to be wed at San Francisco City Hall. The Los Angeles Times estimated that more than 1,451 marriage licenses had been issued or were in the works across the state as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, triple the average number for a June day.

" 'With this ring, I thee wed.' It's amazing how profound those words are. They change lives," said San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom in an interview with The Advocate. The thousands of newlyweds -- known as "party A" and "party B" instead of "bride" and "groom" -- wore jeans and silk ties, stunning dresses, Hawaiian shirts, tuxedos, and pantsuits. After their ceremonies, they departed -- a few with "Get Married" signs on their motorcycles -- and planned for honeymoons, receptions, or simple everyday chores.

"We're going home to get our plumbing fixed," said Wendy Averill, who married Marilee France in West Hollywood.

There were glitches here and there as county clerks mixed up names and stumbled over newly rewritten vows. (In San Diego, all that business about kissing the bride is gone and the vows now say, "You are now united in marriage. You may now seal your vows with a kiss.")

Protesters appeared in some cities, including one in San Diego who yelled, "The Rosie O'Donnells of the world aren't right!" at soon-to-be-married couples. But there apparently weren't any major disruptions.

The most wedding activity, naturally, came in large cities like San Francisco, where a crowd of hundreds cheered whenever a newly married couple -- gay or straight -- walked down the City Hall steps. After offices closed at 6 p.m., San Diego County reported that it set a record for the most marriage licenses awarded in one day -- 230. That beat the previous record of 176 from Valentine's Day 2005. But small towns took part in the celebrations too. In the town of Laguna Hills in Orange County (pop. 33,225), clerks issued 121 licenses and performed 70 marriages on Tuesday. Laguna Woods residents Jeanne Sanner and Laura Flynn were one of the couples to tie the knot after being together for 30 years.

"It struck me much harder in the ceremony that when we said 'I Thee Wed'...'I Thee Wed' -- when I said those words, there was a reality to it that I just wasn't expecting after 30 years, " Sanner said. "I came all excited, but the message went much deeper."

In Indio, a desert town southeast of Palm Springs, the couples married in makeshift chapels included Robert and Thomas Van Etten, who wore T-shirts printed with, "Our Love waited 40+ years for this day! 4/13/1968 - 6/17/2008."

Media coverage of yesterday's marriages was extensive, indicating marked interest in the same-sex marriage debate. In a poll on the website of the Orange County Register, which serves a conservative region of Southern California, 47% of the 2,706 people who responded to an online survey by 5:30 p.m. supported same-sex marriage. The San Diego Union-Tribune's story about local marriages attracted more than 670 comments, many of which were negative.

Obviously, there's no easy road ahead. "If you're in a relationship where you have talked about marriage, don't delay -- make the decision now," advised West Hollywood mayor Jeffrey Prang. "The more people, the more stories, the more happy, loving couples who are simply pursuing the American dream like anyone else will help tell the stories of the community. It's nothing but an asset to the cause."

(Randy Dotinga, with additional reporting by Jon Barrett, Sue Rochman, Anne Stockwell, Duane Wells, and Ross von Metzke, The Advocate)

Do" as Marriage Equality Becomes Legal " >
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