California Weddings Make History

The California Supreme Court has ruled that banning same- sex marriage is unconstitutional. Almost 2,300 marriage licenses were approved to couples statewide on June 17, 2008 -- the first full day of legal same-sex marriages. Brides and grooms lined up at City Halls and County clerks' around the Golden state to say 'I do.'
By Ashley Surdin and William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 17, 2008

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., June 16 -- She said, "I do," and she said, "Absolutely."

With those words, Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, both dressed in ivory-colored suits, were pronounced "spouses for life" on the steps of the town courthouse here Monday evening, as California became the second state to officially sanction same-sex marriage.

As the women were wed by a female rabbi, under a Jewish wedding canopy and surrounded by a mob of cameras, a protester shouted, "You're going to burn in hell."

It was one short but very public ceremony for Tyler and Olson, and a historic, divisive leap for California, where thousands of gay and lesbian couples are expected to marry this summer.

Four hundred miles north of Beverly Hills, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) officiated at City Hall over the marriage of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. The lesbian couple has served as a public face of same-sex relationships in the state: Living together for more than 50 years, Martin and Lyon, who are both in their 80s, were the first same-sex couple to wed nearly four years ago during San Francisco's self-proclaimed "Winter of Love," when Newsom declared marriage a civil right for both gays and straights and ordered his city clerks to begin issuing licenses to same-sex partners.

During that winter of 2004, almost 4,000 couples got hitched in San Francisco before the California Supreme Court declared the licenses invalid, citing a state law that described marriage as between a man and a woman. Then last month, the same high court ruled 4 to 3 that the law prohibiting same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The ceremonies in Beverly Hills and San Francisco were among the first in what is expected to be a crush of government-sanctioned unions this summer, in simple civil ceremonies in city halls, at lavish galas at resort hotels or in synagogues and churches that are supportive of same-sex marriage.

In West Hollywood, a gay-friendly section of Los Angeles, couples are planning a public display of affection after acquiring licenses and performing vows. Among the first scheduled to wed on Tuesday is George Takei, famous as helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the classic "Star Trek" television series. In San Francisco, 165 marriage license appointments are scheduled, along with more than 100 ceremonies, taking place from the early morning to 8 p.m.

"I think as far as civil rights are concerned, it's a major step forward," said the Rev. Neil G. Thomas, senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles, which was founded in 1968 to minister to the gay community when other churches refused. "The magic words -- now by the power invested in me by the state of California -- can apply equally to my straight and gay couples."

Unlike Massachusetts, which allows same-sex marriage but only for its residents, California will issue licenses to residents and visitors alike. According to a study by the Williams Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, which focuses on sexual orientation law and policy, more than 55,000 gay and lesbian couples are expected to marry this year -- and more than 22,000 will come from out-of-state.

With the California economy relatively flat, some advocates are hailing same-sex wedding fever as a potential boomlet for caterers, florists, jewelers and the like. The UCLA study estimated that same-sex couples will spend $684 million on their weddings in California over the next three years.

A coalition of organizations, church leaders and elected officials who oppose same-sex marriage, including conservative advocacy groups such as James Dobson's Focus on the Family, have placed an initiative outlawing same-sex marriage on the November ballot.

"Rather than being a trail-blazing episode, I think it will be a brief anomaly," said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council in Washington, one of the organizations supporting a November measure that seeks to ban same-sex marriage.

This past weekend, the Family Research Council ran ads in California newspapers declaring, "Beginning Monday judges are removing the word husband from California marriage certificates. The next step will be to remove the term father from birth certificates. Enjoy this Father's Day. . . . It might be your last."

A ballot measure banning same-sex marriage was passed by California voters in a landslide in 2000, but it was a state statute. The ballot measure this November would amend the state constitution.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has said he will not support the amendment. Current polling suggests the voters could go either way.

If California voters decide to ban same-sex marriage, legal scholars say it is unclear whether that would have a retroactive effect on the marriages that take place from now until November.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company