Molly McKay was confused when she got the first copy of the California Supreme Court's decision. She was the first to get one. Standing on the courthouse steps across the plaza from City Hall where she was married exactly six months before, McKay flipped through the half-inch of paper, while news crews and other couples swarmed around her.
"It looks like they left the marriages alone," she announced, hesitantly, but she was reading the minority opinion. When she got to the part that read "same-sex marriages that have been performed in California are void from their inception and a legal nullity," she began to weep.
McKay, a longtime gay marriage advocate and head of California's Freedom to Marry coalition, was dressed in one of the five wedding dresses she has worn to demonstrations over the years. "It's what we've been bracing ourselves for," she said after composing herself.
Like many other same-sex marriage advocates, McKay said she expected that the court would rule that Mayor Gavin Newsom had exceeded his powers in allowing the marriages but that the court would leave the licenses in place, in part because of the practical problems of nullifying them. Some of the couples, for example, have applied for insurance together and have sought other benefits available to married couples. "I wonder what happens to our car insurance?" she asked. McKay and her partner, Davina Kotulski, had received a $316 reduction in their car insurance premiums.
However, California has a Domestic Partnership registry, and many domestic partners already receive benefits similar to what married couples get from their employers. Kristen Montan, who stood on the courthouse steps with her partner, Emily Nalven, works for the University of California system. Even before their San Francisco wedding, Nalven enjoyed UC's benefits as if they were married.
Joe Alfano, who was part of the gathering, said that being married has had few practical benefits, except for a change in the attitude of the grandparents of his partner, Frank Capley.
"The wedding put our love in terms they could understand," he said. Before they were married, Alfano said, Capley's relatives had spurned them. "And then they sent a very nice wedding gift."
At City Hall, Newsom held a news conference. "We decided to put a human face on discrimination," he said. "It's not about discrimination in the abstract. It's about these people and their lives."
Jerry Threet, who works for San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano, said he was extremely let down. The insurance rates on the house he owns with his partner, Seth Ubogy, had gone down several hundred dollars a year, he said, "and a lot of little things, like our AAA membership, got less expensive." Threet said he went on a trip in May to visit Ubogy's family in Texas, and there was no question about a charge for an extra driver on the rental car.
But, like Alfano, Threet said the biggest practical impact for him was acceptance. Threet said he and Ubogy are planning to adopt a child in a year or two.
"My family has never treated Seth like my life partner," he said. "Six years ago, my father wouldn't meet Seth. After we got married, that all changed. It made a big difference to them. That's more important than all those little things."