Gay couples rush to marry across California

Gay couples caught off guard by Friday’s surprise announcement that same-sex marriage is once again legal in California rushed to local courthouses Monday morning to get marriage licenses.

Outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa performed Southern California’s first same-sex ceremony since 2008 on Friday evening — marrying two of the plaintiffs from a case the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear last week, paving the way for the change in law — but for most gay couples Monday was the first chance to tie the knot.

And they arrived in happy pairs at county recorders offices and courthouses across the Southland.

Lee Conger, 56, and John Wingler, 66, confessed they “dallied” when gay marriage was briefly legal in the state in 2008.

So when they heard the news that a California appeals court had reinstated gay marriage Friday afternoon, weeks before anyone anticipated, “We freaked out and realized we’d better get ourselves down” to the courthouse, Conger said.


The couple raced from their home in Silver Lake to Norwalk to get their license Monday morning.

When they arrived, at 7:20 a.m., it was “like a party,” Wingler said, as other couples showed up with the same sense of hope and urgency. Standing in line together, listening to everyone else’s stories, was “heartwarming and encouraging,” Conger said.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, thereby requiring the federal government to recognize gay marriages approved by states.

The Supreme Court also declined to rule on an appeal of a California court decision striking down Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that banned gay marriage in the Golden State.

Initially, the California federal appeals court indicated it would be weeks until marriages could resume. But on Friday, the court unexpectedly announced that the ban was lifted immediately.

Rey Ramos, 43, and Rob Larsen, 53, headed from Pasadena to the Beverly Hills courthouse to get their license. In line, they met a rabbi who offered to marry them on the spot.

“All of these years of marching in the street and writing to Assembly people, it’s finally done,” said Larsen, a retired California Highway Patrol officer.

Kern County Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk Dennis Draeger said his office had performed 39 weddings by 1 p.m., double the pace of a typical Monday. The increase was because of same-sex ceremonies, Draeger said.

In West Hollywood, road signs along Santa Monica and Robertson boulevards directed drivers to “Wedding Parking.” City staffers set up awnings and tested wedding music over loudspeakers, and members of the City Council were deputized by county Recorder-Registrar Dean Logan to officiate weddings.

After the swearing in, a woman in the audience stood up and shouted in protest: “What about the people of California who went to the polls and voted” for Proposition 8?

Someone responded: “They lost!”

As a sheriff’s deputy escorted the protester out of the room, she continued shouting: “Jesus Christ is not pleased! What about the people’s votes?”

City Councilman John Duran shouted back at her: “Thank God for the Supreme Court!”

West Hollywood, which has the highest concentration of gay residents in Los Angeles County, offered free wedding ceremonies outside its City Council chambers for much of the day.

Pat Joyce and Anne Morrison of Northridge arrived in West Hollywood early Monday morning. Morrison clutched the yellow folder holding their wedding license, which they had just gotten from the registrar-recorder branch in Beverly Hills.

The couple have been together for 26 years. “It was a long engagement,” said Morrison, 61, a retired teacher.

“We talked about marriage many times,” said Joyce, 60, who works on the support staff at UCLA.

The couple said they didn’t think they’d ever see legal gay marriage. “Not in our lifetime,” Joyce said.

They began planning to wed in 2008 but were unable to have a ceremony before Proposition 8 passed. They became domestic partners instead.

“We thought we had time,” Joyce said. “We were too late.”

Fear of another sudden reversal in the law drove many to the altar Monday morning; others had more pressing concerns.

Two brothers from Reseda sat in red lawn chairs at the entrance to the City Council chambers, having staked out the prime position so their aunts, Helen Andersen and Pam Holt, could have the first wedding of the day.

Holt has terminal cancer and can’t be on her feet for long. “They’ve been waiting 18 years for this,” said Tyler Mead, 21, one of the brothers. “I’d wait days in this line for them.”

When Pachelbel’s Canon in D wafted out of the speaker system, Mead laughed with joy. “That’s awesome,” he said. “I’ve been holding back tears all day.”

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