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Gay Couples Tie the Knot at S.F. City Hall

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Up and down California today, county clerks began the first full day of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Last month's State Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage went into effect late yesterday. And today, hundreds of couples had their first chance to pick up marriage licenses. Some were married on the spot.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports from San Francisco.

RICHARD GONZALES: On the steps of City Hall, it was one big wedding celebration.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONZALES: Rainbow flags were flying, and a gay men's chorus greeted couples lined up to be the first to get their licenses.

(Soundbite of song, "Over the Rainbow")

Unidentified People: (Singing) Somewhere over the rainbow...

GONZALES: City staff and volunteers anticipated a crunch, and they required couples to make appointments to get a license. J.C. Thomas and Mark Dresser were originally married four years ago. They were among the estimated 4,000 couples who were wed when Mayor Gavin Newsom first authorized same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Mr. JC THOMAS: Yeah, on February 13th, 2004. So we were married - the first time we thought it was possible and today we're - we've come in for an upgrade and for the real deal.

GONZALES: Those unions were eventually invalidated by the State Supreme Court, who said the mayor had exceeded his authority. But the same court last month struck down the state's ban on gay marriage. And now Dresser and Thomas are back for a new license.

Mr. THOMAS: Yeah, the wedding will be August 30th. He wants a big wedding so our families, friends, a lot of people were coming out, and it's going to take a while to plan, but we're - we're going to - we wanted to be here today, the first day to get the license, and we have 90 days to have it...

Mr. MARK DRESSER: To solemnize it.

GONZALES: But not everyone today was prepared to wait, and ceremonies were conducted everywhere in City Hall: in corridors, in offices, and in the rotunda.

Mr. AARON PESKIN (San Francisco Board of Supervisors): Do you, Hank, take Jeff to be your lawfully wedded husband?

Mr. HANK DONAT(ph): I do.

GONZALES: Hank Donat and Jeff Helprin(ph) were wed in the chambers of the Board of Supervisors by Chairman Aaron Peskin.

Mr. PESKIN: Do you promise to love and comfort each other, honor and keep each other in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, and be faithful to each other as long as you both shall live?

Mr. DONALD: I do.

Mr. JEFF HELPRIN: I do.

GONZALES: Still, in the back of the minds of many couples is the looming threat that their marriages could once again face a legal challenge. In November, California voters will face an initiative that would amend the state constitution and ban gay marriage. If it passes, the initiative would supersede the Supreme Court's ruling that made this day possible. City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office led the legal battle for same-sex marriage, says he's not worried.

Attorney DENNIS HERRERA (San Francisco, City Attorney): It's our position you can't legislate discrimination. And at the same time I'll note for you that there's no retroactivity provision that's in that ballot initiative. Now, I'm hopeful that we're not going to get to that point and that after we educate the hearts and minds of Californians, that initiative will be defeated. But if it's not, we'll be making our legal arguments. And I'm confident those marriages are going to endure.

GONZALES: City officials are also going to lengths to ensure the integrity of these weddings. Scores of volunteers have been deputized to conduct the ceremonies. One is Bud Ryerson(ph), whose wife works for the city.

Mr. BUD RYERSON (Volunteer): A lot of people are looking at what we're doing here today. And not all of the eyes are friendly. So we have to be very, very careful about how we process all of these applications, how we perform these ceremonies. Every I have to be dotted, every T has to be crossed, because people are going to be checking what we do. They're going to be checking it twice. And if there's anything wrong, if there's any kind of error whatsoever, people are going to be all over it.

GONZALES: No one really knows how many same-sex couples will tie the knot, but officials say that in this city alone, more than 2,000 couples have made appointments to get a marriage license in the next 90 days.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
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