Monday was years in the making, and the demand for same-sex weddings during this first week of their legality has touched California's transportation and tourism sectors.
Jubilant gay and lesbian couples flocked to city halls and county courthouses across California to wed with pets, siblings and kids in tow as same-sex marriages resumed across the state following a five-year legal hiatus.
Monday was the first chance for all but a handful of the state’s same-sex couples to wed since 2008, when about 18,000 marriages went forward during a brief legal window before a voter-approved ban.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule on the constitutional merits of that ban — called Proposition 8 — and a lower court on Friday said same-sex marriages could resume. On Sunday, Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected a last-ditch appeal.
While a few lucky couples were able to score marriage licenses before government offices closed and wed late Friday and scores of others tied the knot at San Francisco City Hall over the weekend, Monday was the day many couples had been awaiting for years.
The Los Angeles County clerk-recorder’s office logged more than 600 online marriage license applications over the weekend — more than five times the normal amount — and posted extended hours Monday and Tuesday to deal with the crush.
In West Hollywood, where about 40 percent of the population is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, the City Council was deputized to perform nuptials. Free shuttles ran from court to near City Hall.
Twenty couples were married within the first 45 minutes Monday and a line grew throughout the morning.
In the smaller, rural counties, the scene was more subdued but joyous.
In Shasta County, one couple wed before 9 a.m., said County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen, but the county will perform same-sex weddings on an as-needed basis to supplement its regular twice weekly ceremonies for couples.
In Tulare County, fewer than a dozen couples showed up to get marriage licenses, said Julie Poochigian, the county’s Chief Deputy Clerk-Recorder.
Though ceremonies were taking place throughout the state, gay marriage opponents say they still believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.
“From a church perspective, we’re going to stick to our guns,” said the Rev. Chris Clark, pastor of the East Clairemont Baptist Church in San Diego. “God’s design for marriage hasn’t changed. It’s one man, one woman.”
In Sacramento, opponents were less visible Monday than during the lengthy legal saga. Fewer than a dozen protesters gathered outside the clerk-recorder’s office holding large signs that read “GOD has ruled on marriage” and “Marriage=1 Man+1 Woman.” One man shouted at couples through a bullhorn. The protesters left by midmorning.
Mary Darby and Tracy Scofield showed up at the courthouse three times last week for a marriage license, but each time they were told applications for same-sex couples were still on hold or the court was closed.
On Monday, they made sure they were first in line.
Darby, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, and Scofield, a 42-year-old elementary school teacher, pitched lawn chairs outside the historic brick building before 6 a.m. and waited with their two tuxedo-clad Chihuahua-terrier mixes.
Binks and Pepito weren’t allowed inside for the ceremony, but Darby and Scofield were thrilled to be the first same-sex couple married in the county since 2008.
“It feels amazing, absolutely amazing,” Darby said.
The couple met while bowling two years ago and had planned to tie the knot in New York, which is Darby’s home state and where same-sex marriage was already legal. The chance to wed in California, however, was too much to pass up.
After exchanging tearful “I dos” in front of a simple wooden altar adorned with fake flowers, the newlyweds posed for photos with other gay and lesbian couples and their mutts.
Then they headed for Disneyland.
Susan Stewart has legally married her same-sex partner twice — once in Canada and once in California. So when gay marriages resumed in California, Stewart was there to support others doing the same.
The second-grade teacher stood in the shade outside the county clerk’s office and handed out pretzel wedding favors (tied in knots), frosted cupcakes and — most importantly — bottled water to couples on a blazing day expected to reach 111 degrees.
Stewart, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Equalifornia,” said she and her partner were among the couples who rushed to marry in 2008.
She said the new crop of brides and grooms seems older, more mature and in less of a hurry.
“There was a lot more urgency back in 2008, there was a rush to get married,” said Stewart, 36, who has two young children with her wife. “This time, it’s more steady. This is the law; this is how it’s going to be from now on.”
Wanda Lawson, 63, and Lauryne Braithwaite, 65, met 32 years ago at a technical college and have been together ever since — but they didn’t get organized in time to wed in 2008.
The two were among the first to take advantage of free ceremonies all day Monday in West Hollywood, where the City Council was deputized to conduct weddings.
A free bus service shuttled beaming couples between the Beverly Hills courthouse, where they got a marriage license, and West Hollywood for the ceremonies.
“It’s exciting,” Lawson said. “We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. To be made equal is a wonderful thing.”
Wearing rainbow leis, the two walked arm-in-arm down the sidewalk with the marriage certificate tucked in a manila envelope.
Braithwaite, a retired transit employee, said she felt married already, but went through the ceremony because it was important to Lawson.
“I don’t need a piece of paper to say that you’re mine,” she said, turning to Lawson.
The chance to marry was especially meaningful for Jay and Juan Carlos Redden, who met seven years ago in Juan Carlos’ native Costa Rica.
The couple arrived shortly after the Sacramento clerk’s office opened Monday and said the brief ceremony will finally allow Jay Redden to petition immigration officials on behalf of his spouse, who traveled to the U.S. on a tourist visa in 2006, decided to stay with Redden and never left.
The two decided against marrying in 2008 out of fear that Juan Carlos might have been deported.
Now, they are planning a big celebration in November to mark the anniversary of Juan Carlos’ arrival in the U.S. and their life together.
Redden, 48, said he had some jitters heading into the ceremony but he wasn’t bothered by the same-sex marriage opponents outside the office.
“There’s still going to be a lot of legal challenges, but I think this issue in fairly short order will be a thing of the past,” he said.
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Photo credit: Gay, lesbian couples flock to Calif courts to wed Jae C. Hong / The Associated Press