SEATTLE (AP) — Keith Bacon and Corianton Hale wore dress shirts as they recited their vows at Seattle City Hall, as the city hosted more than 100 weddings on the first day same-sex couples could marry in Washington state.
A few hours later Sunday, the happy couple had changed into matching t-shirts that read "Looks Like We Made It."
"It's tremendously meaningful," Hale said. "It's really powerful to have the official approval and exact same rights as all of our heterosexual friends."
For Bacon and Hale, and the scores of other gay and lesbian couples that chose to marry in a very public venue, they said they wanted to share with others the significance of the day.
"It's not very private, but very historic," said Deb Needham of Renton, who married her partner of 14 years, Nancy Monahan.
Last month, Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote. They joined six other states — New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont — and the District of Columbia that had already enacted laws or issued court rulings permitting same-sex marriage.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed certified the election results of Referendum 74 on Wednesday afternoon, and the law took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Same-sex couples who previously were married in another state that allows gay marriage, like Massachusetts, will not have to get remarried in Washington state. Their marriages became valid here as soon as the law took effect.
The referendum had asked voters to either approve or reject the state law legalizing same-sex marriage that legislators passed earlier this year. That law was signed by Gregoire in February but was put on hold pending the outcome of the election. Nearly 54 percent of voters approved the measure.
Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples picked up their marriage licenses as early as 12:01 a.m. Thursday, but because of the state's three-day waiting period, the earliest weddings could take place was just after midnight, early Sunday morning. In King County, home to Seattle, more than 600 same-sex marriage licenses were issued by Saturday.
Some courthouses, including in King and Thurston Counties, opened right at midnight, and started marrying couples.
While numerous weddings were taking place across the state, both private and public, the city hall weddings were the largest public event, with more than 130 couples taking part. The city set up five separate chapels to accommodate the revelers. Starting at 10 a.m., cheers and applause regularly broke out as another couple's marriage became official. Weddings were held until 5 p.m.
After couples married, they exited city hall, greeted by a steady rain and by dozens of supporters who cheered them with shouts of "congratulations" and flowers as they descended a large staircase down to the street.
"I don't even have words for this," said Caren Goldenberg of Seattle, who married her partner of seven years, Casey Evans. "It just makes me really proud of my city."
The law doesn't require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and it doesn't subject churches to penalties if they don't marry gay or lesbian couples.
Married same-sex couples will still be denied access to federal pensions, health insurance and other government benefits available to heterosexual couples because the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, bars federal recognition of gay unions.
The U.S. Supreme Court said Friday it will take up gay marriage sometime during the current term. Several pending cases challenge the federal benefit provision of DOMA, and a separate appeal asks the justices to decide whether federal courts were correct in striking down California's Proposition 8, the amendment that outlawed gay marriage after it had been approved by courts in the nation's largest state.
Follow Rachel La Corte at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly or http://www.facebook.com/news.rachel