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A Nice Day for Gay Weddings

Times Staff Writer

Brad Lytle jumped state lines Friday to get hitched.

As opponents went to court seeking to halt the unprecedented issuance of same-sex marriage licenses here, Lytle and his partner, Max Sabo, of West Linn, Ore., were among hundreds who flocked to San Francisco’s gilded City Hall to have their relationships officially recorded in civil matrimony.

Whereas many of the couples cited political reasons for their journey, Sabo and Lytle, both 30, said it was mainly romantic. Sabo, who was already in the city on business, met Lytle’s plane.

“For me,” said Lytle, “this is about expressing my love for Max.” After they were licensed and wed Friday, they planned to spend the Valentine’s Day weekend together in San Francisco.

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Newly elected Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that he would keep City Hall open all weekend, including the Presidents Day holiday Monday, to accommodate same-sex couples who wanted to get married.

Newsom called Friday “an extraordinary day in the history of San Francisco.”

“We are getting calls from all over the country saying things like, ‘If I can get there in six hours, will you still be open?’ ” he said.

Same-sex marriages are not recognized under California law. But Newsom said he believed he had the authority to issue the licenses because the state Constitution’s equal-protection clause prohibits discrimination.

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The mayor fulfilled a campaign promise earlier this week when he directed the city clerk to begin changing marriage license forms to rid them of references to “bride” and “groom.” The city clerk’s office issued 87 licenses Thursday and expected to issue more than 500 on Friday.

Newsom was joined at an afternoon news conference by Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez, a bitter rival in the recent mayoral election, who applauded Newsom’s action. “San Francisco is the right place at the right time to challenge an unfair law,” Gonzalez said.

But the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group that opposes the move, filed a complaint in San Francisco Superior Court seeking a judicial order barring the city from issuing any more licenses and voiding those already granted, among other things. No action was taken Friday.

On Friday, San Francisco’s domed, Beaux Arts-style City Hall was enveloped in a joyous cacophony of weeping couples, applauding activists, roving television news crews and a few bewildered heterosexual pairs. On a typical day, said City-County Assessor Mabel Teng, the city issues 20 to 30 marriage licenses.

To manage the flood of gay couples, city clerks were deputized as marriage commissioners to perform ceremonies, sometimes three or four at a time, on the marble steps of the atrium.

Newsom ignored a chorus of criticism charging that he was breaking state law and committing an act of civil disobedience by approving the licenses. Instead, the telegenic 38-year-old mayor demonstrated San Francisco flair by holding a Friday evening reception in City Hall for the newlyweds.

“I don’t think there is anyone in good conscience who can tell me that denying the same rights my wife, Kimberly, and I have to same-sex couples is anything but discrimination,” Newsom said.

Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who had introduced a bill this week to allow same-sex marriage licenses, told the crowd at the reception: “The beauty and the love that has been emanating from these walls and this dome will be remembered for decades, and it’s not stopping. It’s just beginning.”

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Many of the couples married by week’s end were from San Francisco and nearby Bay Area communities.

Ray Sato, 35, a San Francisco wildlife photographer, was one of the few newlyweds with his mother in attendance. Ingrid Sato, a psychotherapist from Indianapolis, was visiting near Big Sur when her son called to say he and his partner, financial consultant Jeff Whitaker, 52, were planning to tie the knot.

“I’m delighted,” Ingrid Sato said. “I come from Indianapolis, where nothing is allowed.”

Whitaker said he viewed the marriage as another indication of the couple’s commitment to their relationship. “We are already classified as domestic partners for city and state purposes,” he said. “This just brings us deeper into a commitment.”

Among the first tests for these marriages, Whitaker said, would be health insurance. The two men now have separate policies, costing them $250 more a month than a married couple would pay.

San Diego County residents Renee Potter, 34, and Hattie Olson, 32, hopped into Olson’s SUV at 11:30 p.m. Thursday and reached San Francisco City Hall by midmorning Friday. “This is about other people recognizing what we have already recognized with each other for a long time,” said Olson, an office administrator.

Sarah Crowder, 22, and Jessica Sowa, 23, skipped classes at the University of Washington to fly to the Bay Area. When they arrived in Oakland, they offered a cabdriver “a really big tip” if he could get them to City Hall across the bay before 4 p.m., when they thought the clerk’s office might close.

“We didn’t even know if they were doing them today, but we were hopeful,” Crowder said.

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Lost in the confusion and shuffle of the gay marriages were a handful of heterosexual couples who arrived at City Hall only to find long lines. What would normally have been a quick trip for a license suddenly became, for them, an ordeal, several hours long.

Jason Wright, a 27-year-old social worker from Vallejo, said he strongly supported the right of civil union for same-sex couples. “Anybody who is in love and wants to spend the rest of their life together should be able to do it,” he said.

But Wright and fiancee Ardean Dozier, 28, who owns a Vallejo hair salon, said they had 200 wedding guests, family and friends waiting for them at a San Francisco Baptist church.

“I just wish that they had done this on another day,” said Dozier, “or that they had given us a separate line.”

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Times staff writer Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report.


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