Hundreds more couples lined up for marriage vows today after San Francisco's City Hall hosted the state's first legal gay wedding late Monday for two women who waited more than 50 years to tie the knot.
"Today, the institution of marriage has been strengthened and affirmed," San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said Monday after officiating the wedding of 83-year-old Phyllis Lyon and 87-year-old Del Martin. "We will deny no one the right to live their love out loud."
Many more are expected to follow in the footsteps of one of California's most iconic same-sex couples and apply for marriage licenses and exchange vows today — the first day gay and lesbian marriages will be legal throughout the state.
A May 15 California Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage paved the way for the flood of nuptials. While California is the second state after Massachusetts to legalize same-sex unions, the court's decision was hailed as revolutionary — allowing same-sex couples from other states to wed in California as well.
The decision, which took effect at 5:01 p.m. on Monday, is still under threat by a conservative-backed initiative that will ask California to amend the constitution in November and limit marriage to male and female couples. If it succeeds, all same-sex marriages carried out in the next few months will be declared null and void and California will join 44 states with various levels of legal barriers preventing such unions.
"A ton of people want to get married," said Alameda County clerk recorder specialist Priscilla Opa. She said same-sex wedding ceremonies are already booked for today and will likely be booked from here on out.
Officials in Sonoma County predicted wedding-related requests would double and extended office work hours throughout June to accommodate them. In San Francisco, officials said 200 couples have already made appointments to obtain marriage licenses today and that 2,303 same-sex couples have appointments for the same in the next three months.
To keep up with demand, counties are beefing up their wedding manpower. San Francisco trained 200 mainly city staff volunteer commissioners to help officiate the weddings. San Diego County recruited 50 extra city employees and Los Angeles County deputized 100 volunteers over the past two weeks to perform nuptials.
According to a UCLA study issued last week, the extra preparation will be necessary. It's estimated that half of California's more than 100,000 same-sex couples will get married over the next three years, and 68,000 out-of-state couples will travel to the state to exchange vows. Nuptials are predicted to generate 2,200 jobs and $64 million in tax revenue for the state, which is in the midst of a budget crisis.
Not everyone is thrilled about those facts. While it is now illegal to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses, officials in Kern, Calaveras and Butte counties took advantage of a loophole and suspended weddings for all couples. They say it's not technically discriminating against sexual preference.
Many clerks are also choosing to opt out of officiating ceremonies. Opa said employees in her Alameda office have letters from their churches outlining religious reasons why they can't participate.