First gay marriages in District performed

By Ann E. Marimow and Keith L. Alexander
Wednesday, March 10, 2010; B01

There were yellow roses, champagne toasts and tiered cakes.

There were tuxedos, lace dresses and Pachelbel's Canon in D.

This D.C. watershed moment was bursting with pride and happiness. Yet it was also tinged with memories of political struggles and legal battles.

On Tuesday, the District for the first time issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples, some of whom married in ceremonies across the city -- from a D.C. Superior Court chamber to a Unitarian church in Northwest.

The District follows five states that allow same-sex couples to marry. It has issued 42 such licenses and received 12 signed certificates, indicating that at least 12 couples were married by the time the marriage bureau closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

About 150 couples from the District, Maryland and Virginia filed applications to marry last Wednesday, the first day it was possible under a new law. Like all engaged couples in the District, they had to abide by the city's three-day waiting period before getting hitched.

As the couples exchanged wedding bands, their vows underscored the historic significance of the day, a high point in a more than 30-year effort by gay rights activists.

"Marriage is a gift, but until this day in the District of Columbia, this gift has been denied," the Rev. Dwayne Johnson of the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington said as he declared Darlene Garner and Lorilyn "Candy" Holmes of Laurel "legally married" during one of three ceremonies at the downtown headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign. "Today, your love for each other knows no limits. It is free."

'Profoundly rewarding'

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who signed the legalization measure in December, invoked his parents' interracial marriage as he congratulated the newlyweds at a news conference. The weddings, he said, "were a great step forward for equality and for our city that has always been a standard-bearer for treating people equally and justly."

Among the more than 100 guests, friends and relatives of the three couples at the HRC were council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who are gay.

Catania, the leading sponsor of the bill, which passed the D.C. Council 11 to 2, called the moment "the most profoundly rewarding day. . . . I could not be prouder of this city."

The couples were also joined by Frank Kameny, one of the founders of the gay rights movement, who was fired from his federal government job in 1957 for being gay. He hailed the event as a "major victory" but cautioned the crowd not to lose sight of the work ahead in other states and with the federal government, which is prevented by the Defense of Marriage Act from recognizing same-sex marriages.

For the couples married Tuesday, the implications are personal and practical. For Reggie Stanley and Rocky Galloway of Northwest Washington, it means their twin 15-month-old daughters will be part of a "family that is just like every other family in the District," Stanley said. For Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend of Southeast, it means being able to say they are "married," a universally understood institution, unlike "partners," which they said left it to others to interpret the meaning of their relationship.

At D.C. Superior Court, couples with certificates in hand raced out of the marriage bureau to become the official firsts to tie the knot under the new law. Judge Brook Hedge performed a private ceremony for Jeremy Moon and his fiance, Bryan Legaspi, who wore matching tuxedos. The couple, together for nearly seven years, quickly filed their license and then planned to return to work at the Executive Office Building.

While Moon and Legaspi were being married in a civil ceremony, James Betz and Robert Hawthorne were being married outside the courthouse by the Rev. Bonnie J. Berger, a former chaplain at George Washington University Hospital, where the couple formerly worked.

Little protest

Public protest of the marriages was muted. U.S. security marshals, who were stationed throughout the courthouse, escorted one woman out of the building after she began yelling that "God won't recognize" same-sex marriages. The woman had been standing in line with the same-sex couples who were waiting for their licenses.

Opponents of the law, including Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, have tried unsuccessfully to block the measure from taking effect by seeking a public vote on same-sex marriage.

According to a recent Washington Post poll, a majority of District residents support same-sex marriage. Nearly six in 10 said they think the issue should be put on a citywide ballot. The poll also showed a divide in opinion along racial lines. More than eight in 10 whites support legal gay marriage, and 51 percent of blacks said it should be illegal, including 44 percent who say they oppose it strongly.

Jackson said he believes there is a "huge concern in the African American community" that same-sex marriage may "accelerate the disintegration of the definition of traditional marriages, which we have been the victim of losing in great number."

Even as the newlyweds celebrated, there were politics at work in the selection of the couples hosted by the Human Rights Campaign in front of dozens of TV cameras and reporters. The three couples -- two female and one male -- were African American. Event organizers said they were trying to counter the misperception conveyed by opponents of same-sex marriage that the "fight for marriage equality is really for rich, Caucasian men," said Peter D. Rosenstein of the Campaign for All DC Families.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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