SEATTLE - Scores of same-sex couples crowded Seattle City Hall for a day of wedding ceremonies on Sunday, the first day they could marry after the state's voter-approved gay marriage law took effect.
While numerous weddings were taking place across the state, both private and public, the city hall weddings were the largest public event, with more than 130 couples taking part. The city set up five separate chapels to accommodate the revelers. Starting at 10 a.m., cheers and applause regularly broke out as another couple's marriage became official. Weddings at city hall continued through 5 p.m.
After couples married, they exited city hall, greeted by a steady rain and by dozens of supporters who cheered them with shouts of "congratulations" and flowers as they descended a large staircase down to the street.
"I don't even have words for this," said Caren Goldenberg of Seattle, who married her partner of seven years, Casey Evans. "It just makes me really proud of my city."
Mayor Mike McGinn, who greeted couples at they arrived, called it a "great day, a joyous day."
"It's really wonderful," he said. "A new civil right is going to be recognized in this great civil institution."
Keith Bacon and Corianton Hale of Seattle, who celebrated their six-year anniversary the night before, hugged and kissed to loud cheers and camera flashes as they took their vows before one of the 16 local judges who volunteered to officiate the weddings on Sunday.
"We're totally thrilled," Bacon said. The couple had a commitment ceremony in August but said this day was particularly special.
"We had looked at this as maybe a day we would sign a piece of paper and seal the deal, and instead we're having this huge party being thrown in our honour," Bacon said. "It's just mind blowing."
Nancy Monahan, 57, a retired petty office with the Coast Guard, waited outside before the weddings began with her partner of 14 years, Deb Needham, 48.
Monahan was wearing her uniform, and Needham was wearing an ivory dress and jacket and matching hat. They said they wanted to join the large wedding event at city hall because of the significance of the day.
"It's not very private, but very historic," Needham said, to which Monahan added, "And very awesome."
Some courthouses, including in King and Thurston Counties, opened right at midnight, and started marrying couples. Private weddings are expected to take place across the state, as well as some other public events, including the marriage of two couples after the end of the first act of a Seattle Men's Chorus performance at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. The Paramount Theater in Seattle was also to host a large wedding reception for couples.
Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples picked up their marriage licenses as early as 12:01 a.m. Thursday, but because of the state's three-day waiting period, the earliest weddings could take place was just after midnight, early Sunday morning. In King County, home to Seattle, more than 600 same-sex marriage licenses were issued by Saturday.
Robin Wyss, of Seattle, said that the wedding ceremony to her partner, Danielle Yung, was "more emotional than I thought it would be," in part because Yung is five months pregnant.
"Our friends are here, it's a beautiful space and there's all of this love and appreciation," she said. "We've been thinking about this as more of a political celebration for all of Washington state, but obviously it's very meaningful for us and our future child as well."
At the Thurston County Courthouse just after midnight, five couples were married, including Jonathon Bashford, 31, and Matthew Wiltse, 29, both of Olympia.
The couple, together for 10 years, just had a large commitment ceremony in September when they registered as domestic partners, but said they wanted to be among the first to legally marry.
"We weren't going to wait one second longer," Wiltse said.
Last month, Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote. They joined six other states — New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont — and the District of Columbia that had already enacted laws or issued court rulings permitting same-sex marriage.
Couples in Maryland also started picking up marriage licenses Thursday, though their licenses won't take effect until Jan. 1. Maine's law takes effect on Dec. 29. There's no waiting period in Maine, and people can start marrying just after midnight.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed certified the election results of Referendum 74 on Wednesday afternoon, and the law took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Same-sex couples who previously were married in another state that allows gay marriage, like Massachusetts, will not have to get remarried in Washington state. Their marriages became valid here as soon as the law took effect.
The referendum had asked voters to either approve or reject the state law legalizing same-sex marriage that legislators passed earlier this year. That law was signed by Gregoire in February but was put on hold pending the outcome of the election. Nearly 54 per cent of voters approved the measure.
The law doesn't require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and it doesn't subject churches to penalties if they don't marry gay or lesbian couples.
Married same-sex couples will still be denied access to federal pensions, health insurance and other government benefits available to heterosexual couples because the 1996 federal Defence of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, bars federal recognition of gay unions.
The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday it will take up gay marriage sometime during the current term. Several pending cases challenge the federal benefit provision of DOMA, and a separate appeal asks the justices to decide whether federal courts were correct in striking down California's Proposition 8, the amendment that outlawed gay marriage after it had been approved by courts in the nation's largest state.
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