Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church holds its first same-sex wedding

This article has been corrected. See note below.

Jose Lopez-Mercedes and Steven Fenn, Jr., had this special day planned three years ago.

So when the United States Supreme Court ruled late last month that backers of Proposition 8 — a ballot initiative that barred same-sex marriage in California — had no legal standing to appeal a lower court decision overturning the ban, the two Anaheim men began searching through emails they'd sent to each other to help them remember what they'd wanted in the past and plan for their wedding.

Saturday was Fenn and Lopez-Mercedes' day, and 75 loved ones joined them at Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church in Costa Mesa to help the couple celebrate.

The church, which refers to itself as "a welcoming community encompassing different cultural backgrounds, lifestyles, and religious perspectives" on its website, offered free same-sex weddings Saturday.

Fenn and Lopez-Mercedes' wedding was the first same-sex ceremony at Orange Coast since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision, said Orange Coast Unitarian music director Beth Syverson, who wed Jan Mabie on the steps of the Old Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana soon after the ruling.

"This is something we want to do more of, to make sure people know we're here," Syverson said of performing weddings at Orange Coast. "It's all about accepting everybody."

Lopez-Mercedes, 35, and Fenn, 36, who met on the Internet and have been partners for nearly 10 years, held hands as Lee Marie Sanchez, a minister from Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Church in Los Angeles County, led them through the ceremony inside the church's social hall.

Hydrangeas in vases decorated tables near the stage.

Friends Kim Ramos-Moushey and Lilia Franco ushered Lopez-Mercedes and Fenn into the room and gave the men their respective rings.

"By the power vested in me by the state of California, I now pronounce you legally married," Marie Sanchez said.

The attendees began clapping before she could finish the sentence.

"Each of you may kiss your husband."

And with that, Fenn and Lopez-Mercedes, each dressed in matching white suits with leis made of yellow flowers around their necks, kissed, then walked to the outdoor patio for pictures and a champagne toast.

"I'm filled with gratitude," Fenn said. "The equal respect is so important. No more 'domestic partnership.' "

Ramos-Moushey was equally joyful.

"I've been waiting for this day for years, I'm going to start crying," she said.

California voters passed Proposition 8 in 2008, six months after the state Supreme Court gave homosexuals the right to wed, according to a May 2013 story in the Los Angeles Times. The state high court later upheld the initiative as a valid state constitutional amendment.

But U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker held a trial and ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed the law had to be struck down. Proposition 8 supporters then appealed to the Supreme Court, which issued its ruling in late June.

Fenn and Lopez-Mercedes thought they might have an opportunity to wed in 2010.

"Steven saved the service online," Marie Sanchez said. "He sent me a copy and asked if I would do the honor.

"At first they were going to go to [Orange County Superior Court in Laguna Hills] to sign a [marriage] license. I knew about Orange Coast and asked why don't you do it there. Look, a great group of people from Anaheim and Orange Coast all showed up. In my wildest dreams I did not know they would contact me [to officiate the wedding]. There couldn't be more loving, committed, community-serving people than Jose and Steven."

Fenn, a quality control supervisor for retail mortgage lender loanDepot, held back tears as he struggled to repeat vows.

After the ceremony, he said the tears symbolized joy.

"They were complete joy, happiness, amazement, that I can profess my love and share it with all the people from work and church. It was absolute excitement, and nerves, too."

The two haven't planned a honeymoon yet, said Lopez-Mercedes, who teaches English as a second language to Rancho Santiago Community College students.

"We just wanted to get this done," Lopez-Mercedes said. "I'm happy and excited, so many emotions. It means we have the same rights and helps with insurance coverage and tax purposes. We were filing taxes separately. In the past a tax CPA [certified public accountant] refused to do taxes for us."

[For the record, 2:30 p.m. July 9: The caption on an earlier version of the main photo incorrectly said Steven Fenn Jr. was from Oregon. In fact, he lives in Anaheim.]

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