A summer of 'I do's' begins
by Matthew S. Bajko
Hundreds of "I do's" rang out in San Francisco City Hall this week as same-sex couples began marrying, many having waited decades for the legal right to wed.
San Ramon residents Gary Owen, 55, and Chi Poon, 50, were among the first couples to marry Tuesday, June 17. It was the first wedding for the couple, who have been together 20 years.
Poon, who grew up in the East Bay, said "never in my wildest dreams" did he think he would be allowed to marry.
The men wanted to marry at the first opportunity "just to be a part of history," said Owen.
The pair jointly proposed to each other and had been talking about getting married for months.
"It is why we came the first day and took the plunge," said Poon.
The couple, domestic partners since 2001, wanted to marry in San Francisco since it is where they first met. They have not decided if they will have another ceremony or celebration with family and friends.
"The most important thing was to get married today to make that official," said Poon.
Oakland residents Helen Zia, 55, and Lia Shigemura, who turned 50 Tuesday, were one of the first lesbian couples to wed that day. The couple had City Attorney Dennis Herrera officiate their ceremony at 8:54 a.m. inside his City Hall office.
"This ceremony is meant to confirm what the two of you have already confirmed to do and that is marry each other," said Herrera. "By entering into this marriage you are choosing to be lifelong partners."
Holding floral bouquets and wearing flowered leis, Zia proceeded to say "I do" first, followed by Shigemura. After he had the women exchange rings, Herrera announced, "I now pronounce you spouses for life."
As the women hugged and kissed, the couple's family and friends witnessing the ceremony erupted into applause as several reporters documenting it wiped tears from their eyes. After seeing the last of her six children legally married, Beilin Zia said, "I am a very happy, proud mother now."
It was the third commitment ceremony for the women, who became domestic partners in 1993 and then married each other in 2004.
"Now we are going to be legal," said Zia.
The couple had hoped to marry in Honolulu, where Shigemura is from, but saw their hopes dashed when that state's court refused to allow same-sex couples to marry.
"I always wanted to get married to the woman of my dreams and it is Helen," said Shigemura.
Herrera said he felt both joy and "a little vindication" as he walked up to City Hall Tuesday morning.
"The work we have been doing the last four years has been very gratifying," said Herrera.
In 2004 San Francisco officials married thousands of same-sex couples despite state laws restricting marriage to heterosexual couples. The state Supreme Court invalidated those marriages that summer, and after several court cases winded their way through the legal system, the justices ruled 4-3 May 15 that California's anti-gay marriage statutes were unconstitutional.
Anti-gay groups, who pushed to place a constitutional amendment that would override the court's decision on the November 4 ballot, were unsuccessful in their attempts to have the courts stay the ruling until after voters go to the polls. The Court of Appeals turned down the groups' last minute bid to have it stay the ruling without comment Tuesday morning after it had received the Supreme Court's ruling, which went into effect at 5:01 p.m. Monday, June 16.
Throughout California marriage officials are now bracing themselves for a summer of gay nuptials as thousands of same-sex couples are expected to marry. In San Francisco the first couples began lining up outside the Beaux Arts style building by 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 17 as they waited for the doors to unlock at 8 a.m. They were greeted by a horde of reporters as the sun shone down on what turned out to be a gloriously sunny day.
Unlike four years ago, when thousands of couples descended upon City Hall over a rainy Valentine's Day weekend in a mad dash to marry before the courts shut down the marriages, less than 215 couples showed up. Some simply dropped by to obtain marriage licenses for weddings planned at a later date while others opted to marry that day and exchanged vows surrounded by family, friends, the media, and well-wishers.
Spencer Jones, 29, married his partner of six years, Tyler Barrick, 27, at 9:15 a.m. Tuesday under the rotunda in front of the newly unveiled bust of the late Supervisor Harvey Milk, the country's first out gay man elected to public office. The couple was one of the fir
"It is very surreal," Barrick said while waiting to obtain his marriage license. "It means our love is like everyone else's."
Jones, saying he was proud to live in a state that allows same-sex couples to marry, added that the couple initially was "so scared that it was going to go the other way. This is so exciting."
It was the first same-sex wedding for Jared Scherer, who was deputized as a marriage commissioner last week.
"Once the ruling came down I decided I wanted to take a more active role," said the single and openly gay Scherer. "I don't have marriage plans but it is nice to know I have the option."
After marrying his friends, he said, "I couldn't believe it. It was so surreal and wonderful. I feel very honored and privileged to marry folks in love and who want to establish a lifelong commitment to each other."
The couple plans to have a bigger ceremony with family and friends next September. They met in Utah, where Jones is from and Barrick attended college. Last weekend they drove down to Big Sur for a romantic weekend and Jones surprised Barrick by popping the question.
"Spencer completely surprised me and proposed," Barrick said.
"He was so taken aback he couldn't say no," added Jones.
Hank Donat, 41, and Jeffrey Halpern, 43, married each other Tuesday after eight years of being together. One of the very first couples to marry that morning, they had chosen June 17 because it was the address of Donat's family home and asked Supervisor Aaron Peskin to officiate inside the board chambers.
"I feel great. To marry a perfect partner like Hank is paradise on Earth," said Halpern.
"This is the happiest day of my life – for the third time," joked Donat, who first married Halpern on Valentine's Day back in 2004. The couple also had a domestic partner ceremony on Halloween.
Hollister couple Jim Winstead, 37, and Rodney Naccarato, 40, brought their 17-month-old son Ezekiel Winstead with them as they married in San Francisco Tuesday ahead of a larger ceremony and reception they are planning to throw back home in July with family and friends.
Together eight years, the couple first met in San Francisco and wanted to get married there. They wore suits with matching flower boutonnieres.
"We wanted to do it under the dome of City Hall. We wanted to be a part of history," said Naccarato, who proposed this time around.
In 2002 Winstead popped the question, and the men threw a lavish commitment ceremony at the Sonoma Mission Inn. Then, in 2004, they were one of the last couples to marry in March.
"So when all is said and done we will have had four ceremonies," said Winstead. "We are very hopeful this will be it."
San Francisco couple Kory Orourke and Kate Sheppard, together eight years, also returned to City Hall Tuesday after having gotten married inside the building in 2004. This time they brought their family with them and new additions to their household 2-year-old Keaton Sheppard and 3-month-old Korbyn Sheppard.
"This time we had some planning time so our family is here with us," said Sheppard, who obtained a marriage license in the morning and scheduled the ceremony for 4 p.m. in order for family traveling from Davis, southern California and New York to arrive in time to witness it.
The couple had a private commitment ceremony in 2000 and in 2002 joined in a mass domestic partner ceremony at gay Pride that year. This time they hired limos to pick them up at City Hall to drive them to a reception at a nearby restaurant.
"It feels heavier now that we have the children with us this time," joked Orourke. "It is great that we get to have them here to see their mommies get married and their family grow stronger."
Sheppard's mother, Janis Dassaleneux, came up from San Diego with her husband, Bob Sheppard, to see her daughter marry for the first time.
"We were so excited, both of us were so excited when we found out. I didn't think I would live to see the day California would make it legal," said Dassaleneux. "I just hope to God that the ban doesn't go through."
All of the couples expressed faith that voters in the fall would not pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the ballot.
"I think it is changing times. People are more supportive," said Poon. "It is a matter of people being afforded the equality they deserve."