Same Sex Couples say "I do" in California

18 Jun 2008

Same-sex couples say 'I do' in valley

Time being dubbed California's new "Summer of Love"

Staff and wire services
The Desert Sun

Dean Seymour and Philip Colavito of Palm Springs are now lawfully wedded spouses, the first of at least 20 same-sex couples to marry this morning in the Coachella Valley.

Dean and Philip said "I will" when Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet asked if they would take each other in marriage outside the Indio courthouse.

Philip then wiped a tear and said he pledged his "faithful love."

When Pougnet pronounced the two wedded spouses, the couple gave each other a quick kiss and a hug.

"If it has to happen again, we'll keep doing it until everyone gets it right. We are as normal as everyone else and have the same rights," Colavito said.

No protesters showed up at the Indio courthouse.

Prior to the ceremony, dozens of people streamed into the Indio administration offices to fill out marriage licenses.

Philip said it took him three times to fill out the form because he was so nervous.

The couple, who live in Palm Springs, were married once before in 2004 in San Francisco, but the state subsequently annulled it.

Wedding bells continue

More than 20 same-sex Coachella Valley couples are expected to join hundreds across the state in exchanging wedding vows today -- a major milestone in the gay civil rights movement.

Dozens of same-sex couples married after 5:01 p.m. Monday -- when the ruling took effect -- in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, and many more will exchange nuptials today, including more than a dozen in Indio and five in Palm Springs this afternoon.

The second marriage at the Indio courthouse was between Eugene Zak and Clayton Pettet, both 62, of Rancho Mirage.

"We've been waiting for this for almost 18 years," Zak said.

Chris Cotugno, 41, and Keith Goodyer, 45, of Indio, walked around the corner from their home to turn in their marriage license application. Within an hour, they had the license and got married.

They've been together for 22 years.

"Finally, we're able to do something and have it publicly recognized," Goodyer said.

"This is just a final step," Cotugno said.

Thomas and Robert Van Etten of Palm Springs said they have waited 40 years for today.

The men wore pink T-shirts that read "Our love waited 40 plus years for this day!"

"This is incredible. I thought it would be anticlimactic after 40 years, but it isn't," Robert said.

The Van Etten's two witnesses, David Dixon and Paul Ortega, said they were taking them to Spencer's in Palm Springs for brunch.

Mr. Leather 2006, a.k.a. Michael Healy, got married to David Fickenscher today. The Cathedral City couple have been together for 4 years.

They are taking David's grandmother's maiden name of Ryan.

During the ceremony, Michael got a bit choked up and celebrated with a whoop when it was over.

"It's official," he said.

The couple wore black pants, leather vests, and flowers on their lapels, tied with rainbow ribbons.

Micheal said that getting married today created a "stronger bond and a stronger commitment. ...There's nothing that can break us apart."

On camera for, he told David's mother: "Thank you for letting me marry your son."

Darlene Lindstrom and Marilyn Lang were wed at the Metropolitan Community Church of the Coachella Valley in a 10 a.m. ceremony.

Lang wore a beige dress, while Lindstrom will wear a white jeweled gown.

"It's like we've been at the back of the bus and we're moving to the front," Lindstrom said.

The couple, from Landers near Yucca Valley, will be the first to be married in their church, they said.

"Today means the world. To be able to find my soulmate and be able to marry her is a dream," Lindstrom said right after the couple cut their wedding cake.

They say they are so close they can finish each other's sentences.

Art Wagner and Ron Bausman of Palm Springs were in Indio this morning to pick up a marriage license, but said they will wait a few days before they tie the knot.

The couple, who have been together for 33 year and have two sons, said they wanted to be in Indio this morning to witness history.

Wagner said that he asked Bausman to marry him by handing him a Taco Bell hot sauce packet that said, "Will you marry me?"

The two men practiced filling in online marriage applications and got a small kick out of the fact that the online application still said bride and groom.

Michael McIntosh, 47, and Robert Seifert, 49, both of Cathedral City were married this morning in Indio.

They said they have been together 14 years.

When they were asked if they took each other in marriage, McIntosh replied, "I have and I always will."

"We just wanted to get in and do this before the opportunity goes," McIntosh said.

Straight marriage in the midst

A heterosexual couple was among those getting married this morning at the Indio courthouse.

Lorena, who did not provide her last name, said she and her now-husband didn't realize today was the day same-sex couples could get married.

She said she thought coming to the courthouse to get married at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday would be "fast and easy." She and her spouse have been married previously.

Because of all the bustle at the courthouse, she said, "We will always remember this."

"Summer of Love"

Serenaded by a gay men's chorus, showered with rose petals and toasted with champagne, hundreds of tearful same-sex couples got married across the state Tuesday in what some are calling California's new Summer of Love.

Wearing everything from T-shirts to tuxedos and lavish gowns, they rushed down to county clerks' offices to obtain marriage licenses and exchange vows on the first full day that gay marriage became legal in California by order of the state's highest court. They were joined by jubilant crowds that came to witness the event.

George Takei, who played Sulu on the original "Star Trek," beamed as he and his partner of 21 years, Brad Altman, obtained one of the new gender-neutral marriage licenses -- with the words "Party A" and "Party B" instead of "bride" and "groom" -- at West Hollywood City Hall. They are planning a September wedding.

"I see before me people who personify love and commitment," a grinning Takei told the crowd. He flashed the Vulcan hand salute from "Star Trek" and, in a twist on the Vulcan greeting from the TV series, said: "May equality live long and prosper."

There were scattered demonstrations outside some offices and courthouses. About a dozen protesters stood across the street from the Sacramento County recorder's office, carrying signs that read, "Marriage 1 man + 1 woman" and "Resist Judicial Tyranny."

"It's something to just pray about. It's not a time to be joyful," 16-year-old demonstrator Juliya Lyubezhanina said as she watched dozens of balloon- and rainbow flag-carrying couples.

Still, around the state, protesters were outnumbered by well-wishers. One conservative activist said that the effort to pass a constitutional amendment in the fall that would outlaw gay marriage again could fail if the opponents came on too strong.

"The major media would love to see us engage in fierce protests and hostile demonstrations of outrage against the licensing of same-sex 'marriages,"' Ronald Prentice, chairman of the coalition. "Our battle is not against the same-sex couples who are pursuing the opportunity to `marry' granted them by the activist judges on the California Supreme Court."

Some couples came from out of state. Unlike Massachusetts, the only other state to legalize gay marriage, California has no residency requirement for a marriage license.

Many gay activists are likening the moment to the 1967 Summer of Love, when young people from across the country converged on California in what came to be regarded as the birth of the counterculture movement.

In a shady plaza in Bakersfield, where the county clerk stopped officiating at marriages altogether rather than preside over same-sex ceremonies, newlyweds wearing Cinderella-style gowns and matching tuxedos were showered with rose petals while a photographer who set up on a park bench offered to snap wedding portraits.

Although some couples said they preferred to wait until after the election because they feared having their marriages nullified at the ballot box, others said they wanted to make history, especially if the opportunity to get married could be lost.

"There's a window, and we want to take advantage of that window, because who knows what's going to happen in November," said Jay Mendes, 40, as he and his partner of three years, Bantha Sao, 22, waited to obtain a marriage license in West Hollywood.

A recent Field Poll showed that Californians favor granting gays the right to marry 51 percent to 42 percent. It was the first time in 30 years of California polling that the scales tipped in that direction.

In Orange County, newlyweds Alfonso Guerrero, 48, and Manuel Chavez, 43, posed for a picture while deliberately standing in front of a protester wearing a "Jesus or Hell" cap and holding a large "Homo Sex is Sin" sign.

"It's another moment that we would conserve for history," Guerrero said. "They have the right to protest, but we have the right to marry. God loves everybody."

In a sign of the growing political support for same-sex marriage, the Los Angeles City Council president, the mayor of Sacramento and at least two state lawmakers agreed to officiate at the weddings of staff members and friends.

San Diego County, typically a Republican stronghold, added four walk-up windows and assigned 78 employees to issue marriage licenses Tuesday, up from the usual 19. More than 200 ceremonies were scheduled, more than double the average daily load.

The moment he heard the ruling last month, Mike Bray, 44, a computer network engineer from Oceanside, proposed over the telephone to his partner of five years, Tom Siemar. The couple wed Tuesday.

"We knew it would eventually happen," said Siemar, a 42-year-old interior designer who was holding two roses. Bray added: "We didn't think it would happen in our lifetimes."

In West Hollywood, an auditorium was turned into a licensing center in the park. Six white cabanas with chandeliers and silk flowers were ready for weddings.

On the steps of San Francisco City Hall, a gay men's chorus sang while supporters handed out cupcakes. Inside, Helen Zia, 55, and Lia Shigemura, 50, of Oakland, sang "The Chapel of Love," their voices echoing through the marble halls. They wore orchid leis from Shigemura's home state of Hawaii.

"This is the most meaningful day of my life. I've always wanted to get married," Shigemura said. "I just never thought it'd be possible."

A UCLA study issued last week estimated that half of California's more than 100,000 same-sex couples will get married over the next three years, and 68,000 out-of-state couples will travel here to exchange vows.

Constitutional law and civil rights experts describe the state Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling overturning a ban on same-sex marriage as historic, anticipating the issue at some point will reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It's a big deal," said Jesse Choper, who teaches constitutional and corporate law at UC Berkeley School of Law. "Eventually, and I think sooner than later, I think a case is going to reach the U.S. Supreme Court and that will be the big bell rung, one way or the other."

Some have praised the court's decision as advancing civil rights for gays and lesbians. Others, predominantly conservative Christians who advocate marriage for heterosexuals only, have called the ruling judicial tyranny.

"California's domestic partner law already affords same-sex couples every legal right that the state can grant, and our measure does not change that one bit," Ron Prentice said in a statement.

"Our battle is not against the same-sex couples who are pursuing the opportunity to 'marry' granted them by the activist judges on the California Supreme Court. Our battle is against the flawed reasoning of the court's decision and is being waged to reaffirm the traditional definition of marriage."

Prentice is executive director of California Family Counsel, a proponent of the Nov. 4 Constitutional amendment defining marriage as exclusively between a man and woman.

Coachella Valley businesses expect boost

Same-sex marriage is an issue that resonates with many in the Palm Springs area, which boasts one of the largest gay populations per capita in the United States.

A number of Palm Springs City Council members, the mayor and city clerk have all been temporarily deputized to perform wedding ceremonies anticipating a deluge of same-sex nuptials.

Wedding planners, florists, cake designers and other Coachella Valley shops expect a strong boost in business during this off-season in this economic slowdown.

Once classified a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association and legislated through anti-vice laws, gays and lesbians have struggled for civil right protections for decades - a movement that gained momentum after a routine police raid at a gay bar in Greenwich Village led to rioting in 1969.

Legal experts compared the ruling to another state Supreme Court decision - Perez vs. Sharp in 1948 which overturned a ban on interracial marriage - and Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

"I think the most important point is that people understand a majority of people believed in the (interracial) ban," said Barbara Cox, a national authority on sexual orientation law and California Western School of Law professor in San Diego.

"We all believe when the California Supreme Court struck down the law that it was the right step, and I think we're going to see the same thing.

"I think it's really going to start changing people's minds."

The courts and legislative leaders, these experts said, can help turn public sentiment in favor of the disenfranchised - as seen with women's suffrage and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Most today take for granted as unmistakable these long-fought-for civil liberties.

"The (California) court basically said the Legislature has given gay couples all of the rights married people have except the right to call the relationship a marriage," said former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso, a professor emeritus at UC Davis School of Law.

"Separate but equal is not equal."

The court's May 15 ruling that found the ban unconstitutional is final, however voters could overturn the justices' opinion with a Constitutional amendment on Nov. 4. Gay and lesbian advocates hope the court's ruling will sway public opinion.

A recent poll seems to indicate an opinion shift since California voters in 2000 overwhelmingly approved Prop. 22, which made same-sex marriage unlawful.

In the days after the justices' opinion, a Field Poll found 51 percent of Californians approve and 42 percent disapprove of same-sex marriage.

Most attorneys agree that should the amendment pass in November, same-sex marriages conducted between now and then would still be valid because laws are typically not retroactive.

"All Californians have a stake in living in a state that treats all people fairly and that does not let the government tell people who to marry," said Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who argued the same-sex marriage case before the California Supreme Court on behalf of 14 couples.

"This is not just about gay people; this is about everyone's right to fair treatment and freedom."

Based in San Francisco, the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed its lawsuit after the Supreme Court nullified about 4,000 same-sex marriages in 2004 because state law limited marriage to heterosexuals.

The federal government does not recognize same-sex unions. The General Accounting Office has identified 1,138 federal benefits and rights to civil marriage, none of which gays and lesbians will have.