When Chase Lawrence was in the fourth grade, his teacher asked his class to envision their future.
Lawrence answered that he would be living in England and married to a princess.
“Flash forward 20 years, I ended up marrying a queen,” he said.
The crowd of about 20 people scattered on chairs and sofas in the living room laughed as he told the story, one of a few anecdotes shared as the clock ticked closer to midnight. Closer to the exact minute when Lawrence, 28, and his partner of 10 years, Chris Henry, 32, could officially say “I do.”
After the law allowing same-sex marriages went into effect on Thursday, Spokane Valley residents Lawrence and Henry were one of the first couples in line at the Spokane County Courthouse to get their marriage license. And on Sunday morning at about 12:01, they were one of the first in the state to get married.
Other midnight marriages took place in Seattle, where the King County Courthouse was open for weddings Sunday, the first day ceremonies could take place. The state requires couples to wait three days after receiving a license.
After years of dealing with uncertainty and occasionally less-than-accepting family members – Lawrence’s mother grounded him for two weeks when he was 16 because he told her he was gay – the couple could finally say they are accepted by the state of Washington.
“It’s overwhelming,” Henry said after the ceremony. “It’s a point now where we know that we’re equal to everybody else.”
Henry and Lawrence, who met 10 years ago through Henry’s sister, were registered domestic partners and had a holy union celebration nine years ago. They also had an eight-year anniversary party, thrown by Lawrence’s parents. Neither of their families was able to make it to the wedding Sunday.
But the wedding, they said, was exactly what they’d always wanted. Simple, yet unconventional. Just like them.
Held at a friend’s house in Medical Lake, the altar backdrop was a Christmas tree and the reception started before the wedding.
Most of the attendees were close work friends. Lawrence and Henry work together at SL Start in Spokane, which provides services for people with developmental disabilities.
Friends brought food dishes to share, and the Manny Pacquiao fight was on the big screen in the basement.
A friend recently ordained as a minister performed the ceremony, and another took the photographs.
The grooms wore jeans, collared shirts and sweater vests. Their 9-year-old miniature dachshund, Kylie, was the ring bearer.
“It’s exactly the way we wanted it,” Lawrence said.
The ceremony began at about 11:45 p.m. Saturday. But even after reading their vows, lighting their unity candle, exchanging rings and reading 1 Corinthians, they weren’t quite at midnight yet.
“Is there anything else you guys want to say?” The Rev. Gary Rowe asked. “We still have three minutes left.”
Best man Richard Johnson chimed in to say that this was the first wedding he had ever attended, and that he’d never felt like he was missing out until now.
“If there’s anything to be jealous of your friends for, it’s love,” Johnson said.
Still two minutes short.
Friend Kathy Davies-Crane performed a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game” – skipping a few verses here and there – to bring them right up to midnight.
“I now pronounce you husband and husband,” Rowe said.
It wasn’t until the toasts that anyone brought up the issue of gay marriage.
Davies-Crane reminded the group to look around and remember the moment, for it would be one to talk about 50 years from now.
“I didn’t really look at it that way,” Lawrence said. “I looked at it just, ‘We’re getting married.’ But it’s more powerful than that.”
Cathy Russell, who with her husband, Steve, provided their house as the wedding venue, said she offered her home because Lawrence and Henry are equally as giving.
That trait is what makes them so easy to accept, she said, even for people who don’t approve of their lifestyle.
“Whatever your preferences are, whatever your choices are, if you have a good heart, people can tell that,” she said.
While they were already living the essence of married life together, the newlyweds said they are looking forward to the opportunities that a legal marriage presents.
Their next big dream is to be foster parents and eventually adopt from the foster system.
But they aren’t forgetting who helped them accomplish their first big dream of getting married.
“I will forever be grateful to the citizens of this county and this state for saying, ‘Yes, we understand that you are just like everybody else and should be treated like everybody else. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve come from, you are entitled to the same rights,’ ” Lawrence said. “And they expressed that. And I’ll always be grateful.”
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