At least 50 couples were waiting in the hall outside the city's marriage bureau when it opened at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday. Cheering
erupted as the first couple signed in. And, of course, what's a Washington get-together without cupcakes?
Sinjoyla Townsend, 41, and her partner of 12 years, Angelisa Young, 47, claimed the first spot in line just after 6 a.m. Young said it's like waking up on Christmas morning.
By the end of the day, 147 same-sex couples had applied for marriage licenses. Normally, the bureau handles 10 applications a day. On Wednesday, at least four heterosexual couples showed up to apply, including Matt Lawson, 30, and Christine Vander Molen, 27. They are getting married next weekend and couldn't wait any longer to apply for a license. Vander Molen said she didn't mind being the "odd couple out" and found it funny when one person looked at them quizzically and asked, "You two are getting married to each other?"
Couples clapped, called out "Congratulations," and cupcakes and tulips were handed out. One family said it was important to show up the first day.
"It sets a good example," said District resident Christine Burkhart, who married Denise Gavin in a ceremony in 2006 in Washington.
The pair stood in line rocking their twin 4-month-olds, Milo and Josephine.
"We'll be able to tell them that we all went together as a family."
Most couples that applied for licenses were from the District and nearby Virginia and Maryland, which said last week it will recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere until the state Legislature or courts decide otherwise. One couple got on the road at 4 a.m. to drive from West Virginia and another couple was from Delaware. Some said it was symbolic to get married in the nation's capital, but for many D.C. is simply home.
"Today, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment of 2009 has truly come to fruition, setting the tone for other jurisdictions to follow," Mayor Adrian Fenty said. "The District has taken a historic leap forward, becoming a more open and inclusive city in which all residents can thrive. Congratulations to all the District couples who are committing themselves to one another under the eyes of the law. I wish you each a long and fulfilling marriage.”
Washington will be the sixth place in the nation where gay marriages can take place. Because of a mandatory waiting period,
however, couples won't actually be able to marry in the District until March 9. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New
Hampshire and Vermont currently issue licenses to same-sex couples.
The city's Moultrie courthouse, which houses the marriage bureau, is just blocks from the U.S. Capitol.
To deal with the crowd expected Wednesday, the marriage bureau brought in temporary employees to help its regular staff,
courthouse spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz said. Couples got numbers when they arrived to help with crowd control.
"Everybody who wants a marriage license is going to get one. It may take a little longer, but they will get their license,"
Opponents of gay marriage in the nation's capital had asked Chief Justice John Roberts to stop the city from issuing the licenses on Wednesday while they appealed. They argued that D.C. voters should have been allowed to vote on the issue. Local courts have rejected the opponents' arguments.
Roberts also pointed out that Congress could have voted to stop the city government from putting the law into effect and didn't.
Opponents also asked city courts to allow a voter referendum on gay marriage, and they "will have the right to challenge any adverse decision ... in this court at the appropriate time," Roberts said.
To prepare for Wednesday, the marriage bureau has changed its license applications so they are gender-neutral, asking for the
name of each "spouse" rather than the "bride" and "groom."
And at civil marriage ceremonies to be performed in the courthouse, a booklet for the official performing the marriage now reads, "I
now pronounce you legally married" instead of "I now pronounce you man and wife."
A marriage license application costs $35, and the marriage license $10. Couples who are already registered as domestic
partners in the city can convert their registration into a marriage license by paying the $10 fee.
A number of couples worried that the licenses would be short-lived as in California, where same-sex marriage was legal for a time but later overturned by voters.
Opponents are still attempting to overturn the same-sex marriage bill in court. That worries Eric North and Tom French, both 45, who were at the courthouse.
"We want to get in when we can," French said.
"I want to be able to say I'm married," North added.
Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont also issue same-sex couples licenses.