Same-sex couples – some in shorts and jeans, some in their work clothes – rushed to be wed in California on Friday after a court abruptly ended the state’s five-year ban on gay marriage in the wake of landmark rulings at the US Supreme Court.
On a balcony overlooking the grand staircase at San Francisco City Hall, an ornate space that has long been a magnet for weddings, the couple whose case sparked this week’s Supreme Court decision exchanged vows. The ceremony was officiated by state Attorney General Kamala Harris, and the ring bearer was the couple’s 18-year-old son.
“This is the first day of the rest of our lives together,” said Kristin Perry, who with her fiancee, Sandy Stier, filed the lawsuit against Proposition 8, the ballot initiative that outlawed same-sex marriage in California in 2008.
Stier turned to the horde of reporters and well-wishers crowding the room, smiled and said: “Thank you so much for coming to our wedding.”
At the city clerk’s office, other couples waited for their marriage licences. Two men – one in jeans and the other wearing a pair of shorts – exchanged vows after Stier and Perry.
In Los Angeles, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, a second couple who were plaintiffs in the case, wed at City Hall.
“You are just as in love today as you were when you met 12 years ago,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who conducted the ceremony, told the two men, who wore suits with boutonnieres.
The California marriages capped a historic week for gay rights in the United States. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued two key rulings – one that extended federal benefits to married gay couples and another that allowed a federal court’s order striking down the California marriage ban to stand.
On Friday, a panel of three federal appellate court judges responded by formally lifting an injunction against the marriages. That move took brides, grooms and public officials by surprise. They had expected the judges to wait for a more formal ruling from the Supreme Court due in about three weeks.
Within minutes, couples were descending upon San Francisco City Hall, and California Governor Jerry Brown had ordered county clerks throughout the state to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples.
Cassie Coleman and Rosa Sanchez were at work when the ruling came down. They agreed via text message to meet at City Hall, and called their mothers to ask permission. They got some roses – red and pink.
“That was it,” Sanchez said. “We just jumped in.”
The impromptu weddings and the jubilant participation by public officials prompted angry responses from some opponents of gay marriage.
“This outrage tops off a chronic pattern of lawlessness, throughout this case, by judges and politicians hell-bent on thwarting the vote of the people to redefine marriage by any means, even outright corruption,” said Andy Pugno, general counsel for the ProtectMarriage.com Coalition.
But he did not, however, actively threaten to fight on.
“It remains to be seen whether the fight can go on, but either way, it’s a disgraceful day for California,” he said.
John Eastman, a constitutional law professor at Chapman University who was a key backer of the ban, said the appellate court judges should have waited for a 25-day “reconsideration” period to elapse, in which opponents would have had one last chance to ask the Supreme Court to change its mind.
California briefly allowed gay marriages in 2008, before the ballot initiative was enacted. It now becomes the 13th state, and the largest, to allow same-sex marriage – just in time, advocates point out, for Gay Pride weekend.
“On my way to S.F. City Hall,” tweeted Harris minutes after the injunction was lifted. “Let the wedding bells ring!”