City Hall a joyful, serene wedding chapel 

The joyful energy of weddings permeated the cold stones of City Hall on Tuesday, filling the government building with warmth, smiles and tears during the first full day of same-sex marriages in San Francisco and across California.

Accompanied by a serenade of music from stringed instruments that played through most of the day, enthusiastic cheers punctuated marriage ceremonies held in different corners and floors of the historic building, often simultaneously.

Although a handful of same-sex marriages took place in some counties Monday evening — after a state Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex weddings took effect — Tuesday was the first full day for same-sex couples to get married and hundreds took advantage of the historic opportunity.

The first marriage in San Francisco on Tuesday morning was Brad Akin, 47, and Paul Hill, 54.

Hill told onlookers they should imagine being allowed to have something you had been told all your life you could not have.

"You run out and get it as soon as you can," Hill said.

The atmosphere at City Hall on Tuesday was exuberant but more orderly than in 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom unexpectedly authorized the county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Those marriages were later declared invalid by the courts.

This time, couples had time to prepare for the weddings since the California Supreme Court ruled May 15 that same-sex marriage bans violated the state constitution.

The "pent-up demand" will likely drive up same-sex marriage numbers during the next two weeks, said Kate Kendell, executive director of the NationalCenter for Lesbian Rights.

A recent UCLA study estimated that more than 50,000 same-sex couples living in California would marry within the next three years.

Such assumptions presume that gay couples will still be able to marry within that time frame. A ballot measure to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman will be before voters in November. If it passes, it would overturn the ruling of the state Supreme Court.

The November ballot measure may increase the number of weddings, Kendell said.

"Were we not facing the ballot measure, I think many of the couples getting married over the next few months would be getting married a year from now," she said.

The San Francisco County Clerk’s Office is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will hold those hours until at least June 27, the Friday before the San Francisco Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade, according to city official Mike Farrah.

dsmith@sfexaminer.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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