June 17, 2008 in Nation/World

Gay couples in California race to get legally married

Carla Hall and John M. Glionna Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, right, marries Phyllis Lyon, 84, second from left, and Del Martin, 87, third from left, in a ceremony at City Hall in San Francisco on Monday. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

In Beverly Hills, the wedding couple wore matching ivory suits as a rabbi officiated on a courthouse plaza. In San Francisco, the brides exchanged vows as Mayor Gavin Newsom presided. And across California, at 5:01 p.m. PDT Monday, the moment that same-sex marriage became legal by order of the state Supreme Court, exultant gay couples raced to partake in a legal ritual long denied them.

Although county offices are typically closed by 5 p.m., the registrars and clerks who issue marriage licenses in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Alameda, Sonoma and Yolo counties remained open to allow at least two dozen same-sex couples the distinction of being among the first to wed.

Before the ceremonies began, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony and seven other Southern California Catholic bishops reaffirmed their opposition to same-sex marriage. In a joint statement, the clerics said marriage “has a unique place in God’s creation, joining a man and a woman in a committed relationship in order to nurture and support the new life for which marriage is intended.”

In Los Angeles County, longtime partners Diane Olson and Robin Tyler were the first same-sex couple to obtain a license Monday. Together 15 years, Olson and Tyler were the original plaintiffs in the 2004 California lawsuit challenging the ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional. The couple were chosen to receive the county’s first license “in recognition of their unique role in the court’s decision,” said acting Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder Dean Logan.

So after eight years of showing up at the Beverly Hills courthouse each Valentine’s Day and being repeatedly denied a marriage license, they returned Monday as conquering heroines – with friends, their high-profile lawyer, Gloria Allred, and a mass of media in tow.

Olson and Tyler were swarmed by cameras as they entered the courthouse. “We just love each other,” Tyler said as Olson gently placed her hand on the small of her back.

Around them gathered dozens of family and friends and a smattering of protesters.

If only it had come earlier, Tyler lamented just hours before the ceremony.

“I’m 66,” she said. “If they had let me get married 10 years ago, I would have been 20 pounds lighter, and I wouldn’t have needed air-brushing.”

In San Francisco, protesters arrived early on the front steps of City Hall, as did a throng of more than 100 reporters.

Inside, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin’s private ceremony in Newsom’s office marked a triumph of love, endurance and a pioneering commitment to gay rights spanning half a century.

Their initial kiss came when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. They first said “I love you” in an era when most Americans couldn’t fathom two women as a committed, sexually active couple.

For many years, they couldn’t hold hands or embrace on the street. They lived in fear of being outed.

But Monday, as they took their vows as wife and wife and one of the first same-sex couples married in California, the public scrutiny had turned from bitter to oh-so-sweet.

At ages 83 and 87, respectively, Lyon and Martin call each other “honey.” Monday evening, they were more than retiring octogenarians turned social trailblazers. Greeting the media after taking their vows, they were beaming newlyweds.

Their wedding announcement invites guests to celebrate “our marriage and 55 years of love and commitment.”

As for gifts, Lyon said they’re too old for kitchen gadgets. After so many years of keeping secrets, public acknowledgment of their love is enough.

“It’s really amazing and exciting,” Lyon said.

“And exhausting,” added Martin.


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