Equal Rights Under The Law, Homophobic Freepers Be DamnedSFGate Article
SAN FRANCISCO -- Cheers filled San Francisco's City Hall shortly after 5 p.m. as longtime lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, partners for more than 50 years, began their second wedding - and their first legal union.
Mayor Gavin Newsom, who officiated the ceremony in the reception area of his office, said it was a fitting way to memorialize last month's state Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in California, which took effect at 5:01 p.m.
Lyon, 83, and Martin, 87, were the first couple married four years ago when Newsom told the county clerk's office to start offering marriage certificates to same-sex couples. Eventually more than 4,000 same-sex couples were married in San Francisco that year, but those unions were later nullified by the court. Today, the couple, and dozens of others, had their first chance to make their unions truly legal.
In at least five counties around the state, other couples were pronounced "spouses for life" once the clock chimed 5.
In Alameda County, Emeryville couple Kenny Latham, 47, and Keith Boadwee, 46, wore pink peonies in their lapels as they became the first gay couple in that county to marry. In Sonoma County, a giddy Mark Gren, 42 and Chris Lechman, 37, of Guerneville, applied for a marriage license at 5:01 p.m. And in Los Angeles County, lesbian couple Robin Tyler and Diane Olson - who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the high court's May 15 decision - donned matching white suits to tie the knot in a traditional Jewish ceremony.
Newsom waited until exactly 5:01 p.m. to begin the San Francisco ceremony, the only one in San Francisco tonight. The women were declared spouses for life at 5:07 p.m. in front of about 50 friends and family members. Martin came into the area in a wheelchair but stood for the ceremony.
The couple made their way out of the office and onto the balcony area where a cake - and large crowd- was waiting. Rose petals fluttered down from the ceiling as the crowd cheered and cameras flashed.
"This is an extraordinary moment in history and extraordinary moment in time" Newsom said to the crowd. "They are extraordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives and spent half a century fighting for justice and equality."
Lyon drew laughter with her comments.
"When first got together, we were not really thinking about getting married, we were thinking about getting together," she said. "I think it's a wonderful day."
"Ditto," Martin said.
Just before 5:30 p.m., the couple cut their cake.
Although Lyon and Martin's ceremony is the only one at City Hall tonight, hundreds of couples are expected to flood the domed building Tuesday for the first full day of legal same-sex marriage. Elsewhere in California, most clerks are waiting until Tuesday to begin the same-sex weddings.
This evening in Sonoma County, dozens of county staff members and supporters counted the seconds down from 10. And at 5:01 p.m. - with a cheer - Gren and Lechman stepped up to apply for marriage license.
A few minutes later, the couple entered a small room adjacent to the clerk's office to take their vows - "in sickness and in health, for better and for worse, come what may" - then both men said "I do."
Outside, Unitarian Church members handed out little bunches of flowers, while another 18 couples and their families waited for their own special moment.
Joe Balestreri of Santa Rosa said he came just to witness the first wedding.
"Now that I have the choice it doesn't mean I am going to rush in to it," he said, laughing.
Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums also planned to officiate about a dozen ceremonies at Oakland City Hall this evening, while another 35 couples are expected to wed at the Alameda County Clerk-Recorder's office on Madison Street.
By 5 p.m., the lobby of the clerk's office was packed with couples and their friends, everyone antsy to start the ceremonies. Around 5:20 p.m., the first couple, Latham and Boadwee, finished filling out their wedding certificate and made their way upstairs for the ceremony.
The Emeryville couple celebrated their 10-year anniversary in May, and chose traditional vows for their ceremony.
Janet Appel, a volunteer deputy marriage commissioner, officiated the wedding, telling the men that "no other words are as tender as these vows or important as these vows."
Latham described the moment as a "victory."
"We've been together so long, we know what it means to be a couple," Boadwee added. "However, now we have the legal protection, wherever we go throughout the state people will recognize it."
Not everyone is happy about the state Supreme Court decision, which ruled that denying gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to marry was a violation of their civil rights under the California Constitution.
Outside San Francisco's City Hall, hundreds of raucous opponents and supporters of same-sex marriage filled the sidewalk.
A woman from the church of Kansas pastor Fred Phelps - whose followers are known for their anti-gay slogans - stood behind several police barricades put up in Civic Center. Along with two of her children, the woman loudly sang while waving derogatory signs. Another protester drove around the block in a truck painted to look like an American flag with a sign that read "Sodomy is sin."
Luong Do, who said he drove up from San Jose, held a giant sign that read, "homo sex is a threat to national security."
"We want to tell people this lifestyle they're living is a death style that will get them diseases in this life and eternal hell in the second," he said.
Others were there to support the pending nuptials. One man strummed a guitar and sang "Going to the Chapel," while Kathryn Werhane threw rose petals on some of the protesters.
"We want to support these weddings. It's love and tolerance for real," she said. "Any proclamation of love is good with us. Why are they crashing our party?"
Inside the building things were more subdued, though the excitement was palpable even earlier in the day.
Martin and Lyon's friends started gathering early. Arlene Rusche, 68, and Clara Brock, 80, sat on a bench outside the mayor's office shortly after 3 p.m. and planned to witness the wedding. Brock was one of the first members of Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian-rights group that Martin and Lyon founded in 1955.
"I never thought this was going to happen to tell you the truth," Brock said.
"This is so, so big," agreed Rusche, Brock's partner for 17 years. "I never thought it would happen in our lifetime. It just shows we are making progress."
Several feet away sat a couple on vacation from Ireland who happened to stumble on the historic event. Christine Yearsley said she planned to stay at City Hall the rest of the afternoon to witness as much as she could.
"This gentleman just told me there are two elderly ladies who are getting married today after being together for 50 years," she said. "They're obviously committed! I think it's terrific. They're an example for heterosexuals, I think."
Chronicle staff writer Heather Knight contributed to this report. E-mail the writer at email@example.com.