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Originally published June 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 18, 2008 at 8:14 AM

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A day for "I do" in California: Hundreds marry after high court's gay-marriage ruling becomes official

With a sense of history and a looming battle at the ballot box, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples in California wed Tuesday, a steady...

SAN FRANCISCO — With a sense of history and a looming battle at the ballot box, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples in California wed Tuesday, a steady and decidedly confident celebration that was a marked departure from the mad rush here four years ago.

The marriages began in many cities just after 8 a.m., with the early opening of the state's 58 county clerks' offices. By 5 p.m., more than 1,601 marriage licenses were issued — more than three times the normal rate, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But unlike the scene in 2004, when San Francisco — and San Francisco alone — broke state law to wed thousands of same-sex couples (the marriages were later nullified by the courts), Tuesday's ceremonies often had a sense of calm and permanence.

"It was so legally ambiguous last time," said Lorie Franks, 43, who came to San Francisco's City Hall, as she had in 2004, to marry her longtime partner, AnneMary Franks. "It was really touching, but we kind of knew it was on thin ice. This time, to me, feels more real."

Much of that security came from California's Supreme Court decision May 15 legalizing same-sex marriage, and the subsequent rejections of challenges to the decision by the same court and the state Court of Appeals, which denied another request for a stay of the marriages Tuesday.

The Supreme Court's decision became official at 5:01 p.m. on Monday, and Tuesday morning was marked by a burst of mass matrimony, as couples wed in civic buildings, under street-front chuppahs and in more private locations.

California became only the second state to legalize same-sex marriages — Massachusetts did so in 2004 — but California's law allowing out-of-state residents to marry as well opened the doors here to couples from Kansas, Hawaii and Texas, as well as well from Thailand, France and Italy.

Gay-rights activists said Tuesday marked a watershed moment for the movement.

"This is the beginning of a vision of what it means to live in a nation and a state that says we value one another as equals," said Kate Kendell, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

At the same time, with an initiative on the November ballot that would amend the California Constitution to say that only marriages between men and women are "valid or recognized" in the state, some gay-advocacy groups were cautioning couples to keep their celebrations low-key and respectful so as not to provide fodder for their foes or play into stereotypes.

"Marriage is a serious thing and people should treat it seriously," said Geoff Kors, the executive director of Equality California, a gay-rights group.

Kendell seconded that, saying gay men and lesbian couples understood the import of the moment. "There's a time to party, there's a time for celebration, there's a time for flamboyance," she said. "And then there's getting married."

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At the same time, opponents of same-sex marriage seemed to be keeping their distance, with only scattered — and outnumbered — protests Monday and Tuesday.

Tony Perkins, the founder of the Family Research Council in Washington, said his group had not organized any protesters in California. "We'll let them have their day as they go through this," he said. "Our focus will be on educating voters."

Dennis Herrera, the city attorney, said it was unclear whether passage of the ballot initiative would invalidate marriages performed between now and November. For those actually getting married, of course, such election-year concerns were secondary.

Doris Weddell of Bakersfield had double reason to celebrate: Two of her four daughters were exchanging vows with their spouses just outside the Kern County clerk's office.

Both Weddell sisters were thrilled they could finally give their mother a reason to dress up. And Doris Weddell, 75, was just as happy.

"I'm on a high. This is way up there. It's like childbearing," Doris Weddell said.

Actor George Takei of "Star Trek" fame and his partner were among the first wave of gay couples obtaining marriage licenses in West Hollywood.

"I think it's a glorious California morning to make history," said Takei, who stood with his mate, Brad Altman.

In San Francisco, 165 same-sex couples had appointments at San Francisco's City Hall to marry Tuesday, working their way through an orderly maze of administrative officials handing out licenses.

Children, parents, friends and wedding photographers were all on hand for ceremonies, as a string quartet played in the City Hall rotunda and cheers periodically erupted from one of 19 marriage stations arranged throughout the building.

California tourism officials were hoping for an influx of marriage-minded gay couples. Dr. Melissa Levine, 43, and Terry Levine, 51, traveled from Tucson, Ariz., to Indio, Calif., east of Los Angeles, with their two sons to apply for a marriage license. They later wed in Palm Springs.

"Why did we come? Because it's not legal for us to marry in Arizona," Melissa Levine, a family physician, said. "After 18 years together, we thought it was about time."

Compiled from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press reports.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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