First full day of gay marriage sparks elation

George Takei and his partner of 21 years are planning a September wedding.

;BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) _ Daniel Nauman married his longtime beau in brown cowboy boots and jeans, then crooned him a soft, warbling version of “My Funny Valentine.”

“He still gives me the chills,” said Roland Vallerand, 64, who wore a red cowboy shirt and black mariachi tie to marry his 40-year-old groom in a shaded plaza next to the Kern County government building.

“No matter what happens,” he said, “this will be our day.”

Hundreds of tearful same-sex couples rushed to government offices Tuesday, the first full day they could legally marry in California. They were joined by jubilant crowds that came to witness history, to serenade the newlyweds and shower them with rose petals and champagne.

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 flayed-fingered hand salute from “Star Trek” and, in a twist on the Vulcan greeting from the TV series, said: “May equality live long and prosper.”

The burst of gay weddings actually began Monday evening, when a few counties extended their office hours past 5 p.m., the moment the May 15 California Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage took effect. On Tuesday morning, though, all 58 counties began issuing licenses, and the rush was on.

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.

Courts in Sacramento and San Francisco on Tuesday rejected separate last-minute bids by groups seeking to halt same-sex marriage.

Protesters were outnumbered by well-wishers around the state. One conservative activist said that the effort to pass a constitutional amendment in the fall that would outlaw gay marriage again in California 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.”

In Bakersfield, the county seat of one of three counties where the elected clerks stopped offering marriage ceremonies this week but were duty-bound to grant licenses to any couple that requested one, only one protester showed up at the plaza-turned-wedding chapel.

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.

In San Francisco, where more than 650 couples have appointments to get marriage licenses before the end of the month, there were repeated references to a new “Summer of Love,” a comparison born from the season in 1967 when young people converged on San Francisco in what came to be regarded as the birth of the counterculture.

Although some couples said they preferred to wait until after the election because they feared their marriages would nullified at the ballot box, others said they wanted to participate in the historic moment, 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, better 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, a 42-year-old interior designer. The couple wed Tuesday.

“We didn’t think it would happen in our lifetimes,” Bray said.

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