SAN FRANCISCO — Finnlandia McGowan, 58, awoke before sunrise in her San Rafael home on Sunday morning and drove into San Francisco. It was her first time attending a gay pride parade in the city, and she wanted the right spot.
Wearing a white dress and a wide-brimmed straw hat, she bought a $2 rainbow ribbon from a sidewalk vendor. Then McGowan unfolded her blue chair right behind the metal barricade on Market Street, halfway down the parade route, and placed flowers in the armrest's cup holder. And she opened an umbrella and draped it with tie-dye streamers.
It was only 5:30 a.m. when she arrived, and she passed the time reading the Wall Street Journal and waiting for the sun to poke between the buildings.
McGowan is not gay herself, but she wanted to celebrate the Supreme Court decisions overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and voiding Proposition 8.
"It's a historic moment for equal rights," she said.
Only handfuls of people milled around Market Street two hours before the parade's beginning, but more soon arrived. Rainbows were everywhere, painted on faces, on socks, on shirts and flags.
The parade usually draws about 1 million people, but organizers expect the crowd to swell by 20% because of last week's court decisions.
On Sunday, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency request to stop same-sex marriages in California, a lawyer for the gay couples who sued said.
Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., one of the lawyers who challenged Proposition 8, said he was informed by the court that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy denied a request by ProtectMarriage, the sponsors of Proposition 8, to halt the marriages.
Boutrous said that Kennedy, who handles petitions from the Western states, did not comment on the decision.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order late Friday that allowed gay marriages to resume in California, a step that ProtectMarriage said was premature and in violation of procedural rules.
The 9th Circuit normally waits 25 days after a Supreme Court case is decided before making any subsequent rulings. But in a surprise move, a three-judge panel that included liberal jurist Stephen Reinhardt lifted a hold the court had placed on a 2010 injunction ordering state officials to stop enforcing the gay marriage ban.
Couples from throughout the state have converged on San Francisco City Hall, believed to be the only government office in California issuing marriage licenses over the weekend.
In the first hour of business on Saturday morning alone, San Francisco officials issued about 100 marriage licenses. All told, 246 were granted and 188 couples were married on the first full day of legal, post-Proposition 8 marriage.
When Tom Rothgiesser and George Lucas (no, not that one) arrived at the Civic Center to cap off half a century of togetherness, they did not need a marriage commissioner to officiate.
The 79-year-olds brought their own Superior Court judge, a retired jurist with a pedigree. Judge James Warren is a longtime friend and the grandson of Earl Warren, the legendary U.S. Supreme Court justice who advanced civil rights nationwide.
Warren said his grandfather would have been thrilled.
"Equal protection under the law was the most important thing to him," he said. "He was rabidly in support of it."
Rothgiesser and Lucas met in South Africa, and when they came to the United States marriage was never seen as a possibility. "The idea was preposterous," Rothgiesser said.
Years later, when gay couples were marrying in 2008, the men were traveling in New Zealand, where Lucas was born. By the time they made it back, Proposition 8 had passed, banning gay marriage.
With the law finally overturned after a lengthy court battle, they married in the center of City Hall's marbled atrium. Each held a bundle of white roses.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Tom and George have committed their lives together as husbands in the state of California," Warren said after the ring exchange. Then: "Tom and George, you're married."
The happy couple celebrated their nuptials with miniature cupcakes. Marriage, they said, probably won't change their relationship. But still, it was an emotional morning.
"It will probably hit us later," Lucas said.
For some couples, Saturday offered a chance to make up for lost opportunities, for not having wed during the brief windows in 2004, when more than 4,000 same-sex marriages were performed in San Francisco, and in 2008, when such unions were legal statewide before Proposition 8 was passed.
Sandy Palmer and Mary Dang piled into their white Prius in Los Alamitos and arrived at City Hall not long after sunrise Saturday.
They knew they couldn't get the crucial piece of paper over the weekend in Orange County, where they have lived together for 10 years. And they worried that the right to marry granted by the appeals court on Friday afternoon could be taken away again Monday morning.
Such a matrimonial bait-and-switch had happened to gay and lesbian couples before — not once, but twice. Hence the sleepless night, the moonlit sprint up Interstate 5, the 90-minute wait on the steps of City Hall as early morning traffic rushed by and the line for licenses swelled.
"We had a wedding in 2010," said Palmer, 33, describing a pirate-themed affair with swords and hats, friends and family. "It was amazing, but the legal piece was missing. I wanted to make this a part of my personal history, to grab the moment, be part of something special — not just for me, but for the country."