29 Jun 2013

California sees first gay wedding in four years

The brides kissed and supporters cheered – as California’s Attorney General presided over the first gay wedding in the state for more than four years – declaring the couple “spouses for life”.

Kris Perry and Sandy Stier marry (reuters)

After years of campaigning and a major legal fight, in the end it was all very sudden. California’s appeals court suddenly announced it was lifting the stay on gay marriages – allowing weddings to go ahead without delay.

Less than an hour later, the first couple to tie the knot, at San Francisco’s City Hall, were the lead plaintiffs in the case which overturned the state-wide ban, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier.

Attorney General Kamala Harris presided over the ceremony, as hundreds of supporters looked on, declaring that the couple had represented thousands of others in their fight for equality.

“Through the ups and downs, the struggles and triumphs, they came out victorious”, she said.

During their vows, Perry and Stier declared they were taking each other as “lawfully wedded wife”, while one of their twin sons served as ring bearer. They were suprised that the court decision had come so quickly.

“My first thought was, ‘Let’s go'”, said Perry, while Sandy Stier added “We’ve waited so long. It’s a great day for us, for San Francisco, for the United States.” Kris Perry’s mother, Laura Hubbard had got to City Hall just in time, describing it as a “wonderful experience”.

We’ve waited so long. It’s a great day for us, for San Francisco, for the United States. Sandy Stier

The other couple who brought the landmark legal case, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarillo, married shortly afterwards in Los Angeles, while many marriage clerks across the state prepared to stay open all weekend to issue licences.

California assembly member Phil Ting, who performed some of the first weddings, said “It’s wonderful. It never gets old seeing people who have loved each other for so many years finally be able to marry each other”.

In San Francisco, a long queue had formed by late afternoon outside the city clerk’s office, which had brought in extra staff to cope with the expected rush. The timing of the court’s announcement, though, was unexpected.

Gay pride

Under the rules of the US Supreme Court, which effectively allowed the California ban to be overturned when it refused to rule in the case, the losing side has 25 days to ask for a new hearing.

But governor Jerry Brown told the state’s 58 counties they could start issuing marriage licences as soon as the appeals court decided. California’s court, however, decided not to wait for that period to expire, angering opponents, who called their action “outrageous”.

Andy Pugno, counsel for ProtectMarriage, a conservative religious group which first sponsored Proposition 8, said: “The resumption of same-sex marriage this day has been obtained by illegitimate means. If our opponents rejoice in achieving their goal in a dishonourable fashion, they should be ashamed.”

However such is the momentum across California behind marriage equality – especially on this Gay Pride weekend, a challenge seems unlikely.

Kate Kendell, from San Francisco’s national centre for lesbian rights, could hardly believe their long struggle was finally over. “It’s finally real”, she said. “I feel like I can take a breath for the first time in five years.”

Felicity Spector writes about US affairs for Channel 4 News