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The Daily Journal

 

June 17, 2008

 

By Michelle Durand

 

 

County grants rites

 

 

The brides weren’t exactly blushing and none of the grooms admitted cold feet — which should be expected after so many years together.


But on Tuesday, the first full day California allowed same-sex marriage, the long-time couples trickling into the county Clerk’s Office for licenses and ceremonies weren’t immune to tears and nerves.


“I thought I’m cool. I can handle this,” Joe Doyle, 66, said after marrying Tom Wood, 56, his partner of 10 years.


But as soon as volunteer deputy marriage commissioner Andrew Minko began the ceremony in front of the clerk’s office, Doyle said he felt tears.


Doyle also felt something nearly every couple queried echoed about the right to marry: “I feel normal.”


Doyle and Wood were one of the many couples yesterday who came into the clerk’s office in search of an application and left with an actual license. Four same-sex couples had appointments in the county’s chapel, married in everything from white dresses to polo shirts and khakis.


As Edward Hardie and Christopher O’Hare said before their morning nuptials, when a couple gets to their third wedding it’s time for casual garb. The couple, who had a commitment ceremony in 2002, did keep one ritual from their previous celebrations: a trip to the Left Bank restaurant.


Like Doyle and Wood, Hardie and O’Hare appeared collected while filling out paperwork. Once they were declared legally wed, though, the couple let their emotion show and Hardie even had difficulty holding a pen to sign his name, said volunteer deputy marriage commissioner Peter Young, who officiated.


The Menlo Park residents were the first same-sex couple to marry the church but said they didn’t choose the timing in a rush toward the first day. They actually wanted Friday but the slots were already filled.


Although the couple qualified for one first, the county’s first marriage was actually outside the clerk’s office by two Ohio women who had no idea of their place in history until after Minkin announced them legally wed.


Lisa and Beth Shapiro, 46 and 44 respectively, just happened to be in California for graduate school and figured why not take the plunge while here. Dressed in the best clothes they had packed — nearly-matching denim ensembles — the couple were one of the first through the clerk’s door. After filling out the application, the women learned they couldn’t be accommodated in the chapel that day but Deputy Clerk Theresa Rabe wasn’t going to let them miss out on an opportunity.


The women were shepherded outside where Minko and the Rev. Terri Echelbarger of Peninsula Metropolitan Community Church stood ready to officiate the overflow. Under a canopy, the women exchanged vows and rings much as they had two years prior in a church service known as a holy union before friends and family in Ohio. They laughed at the words “for richer or poorer” — “definitely poorer,” they joked mid-ceremony — and choked up while slipping rings on each other’s left hands.


The Shapiros actually had planned not to marry again until it was legal in their home state but the rare chance of California was too tempting to pass up.

“We were going to wait but I don’t know how long that was going to be,” Lisa Shapiro said.


The couple, who met online, “just knew” they were meant for each other and moved in together four months later, said the term married might not mean much on paper in Ohio but internally it is incredibly different.


“Now, you’re really my wife,” Beth Shapiro said.


Following the ceremony, the couple called loved ones back home to inform them the couple — and mother to “seven ‘furry’ children” — were official. They also had another decision: Where to celebrate.


“Maybe a nice restaurant,” Beth Shapiro said. “It’s a little early.”


Like the Shapiros, a majority of those seeking licenses turned out early, uncertain if they would be met by a crush of applicants or a gaggle of protesters. The truth was actually neither.


A line of couples waited outside the office before it opened at 8 a.m. but after a steady stream in the morning the afternoon figures slowed. By the end of the day, the office issued 44 licenses of which 10 were heterosexual, Rabe said.


The turnout was chalked up to a focus on San Francisco activities and the knowledge same-sex marriage is safe from invalidation, at least until the November election. With that date in mind, some couples are giving themselves time to organize what is often their second, third or fourth trip to the altar. In some case, this round of nuptials will also include participants who weren’t around for the first — namely, children.


The Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern of the Universalist Church of Palo Alto and her partner, Joy Morgenstern, brought 15-month-old Indigo with them to pick up a license for a ceremony later. Indigo, who wore a white T-shirt with the rainbow-colored word “family” is always game for a party and loves cake, the couple joked.

The couple said the legal benefit for them aren’t much different for them but, like the others, explained the word itself carries weight.


“We don’t have to feel like second-class citizens,” said Joy Morgenstern, wearing a pin proclaiming “Hate is not a family value.”


The momentous day even allotted room for heterosexual couples. Aside from the 10 picking up licenses, two took turns in the chapel.


Angie Tejada, 30, and Kenis Barrera, 28, didn’t know when picking yesterday as their wedding day it would coincide with a history greater than their own. They needed a Spanish-language ceremony, only available on Tuesdays, and wanted a date near Barrera’s birth date. Tejada said they were happy to share the day with the other couples and it only made their moment “more special.”


The day was also special for the Clerk’s Office staff, particularly as one noted, because the events were so much happier than some of its other duties.

 

Employees hurried to direct couples to the right line and finalize the licenses after ceremonies. Many exchanged hugs with the staff — even when they had to interrupt the couples marveling at their licenses with pesky non-romantic chores like paying the necessary fees.


An album of thoughts and photos compiled since 2007 held court on a table with flowers and Hershey’s kisses. Loose pages stood ready for comments from couples to place inside the book which will later be donated to the historical museum.


“Love is in the air,” wrote Deborah Hull. The newly-wed Shapiros added, “So happy to be legal.”


Carol Cook and Susan Greiger detailed their marital journey: “After 15 years, justly married in 2004. Legally married in 2008. Thank you!”


An attendee of one morning wedding thumbed through the book with her daughter, explaining that yesterday was a historical occasion in line with the civil rights movement taught in school.


Historical as it was, for the couples yesterday June 17 was also something much more simple and personal — their wedding day.


Michelle Durand can be reached by e-mail: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.