SAN FRANCISCO -- Dozens of brides and brides queued up with scores of grooms and grooms in City Hall here yesterday to obtain the first gay-marriage licenses issued in the United States by a governmental agency.
After obtaining licenses from the county clerk's office -- which cautioned that the "marriage of lesbian and gay couples may not be recognized as valid in any jurisdiction other than San Francisco" -- more than 85 couples were married, many under the glare of television cameras in the ornate rotunda of City Hall, in quick ceremonies marked with sustained cheers from the assembled crowd.
The issuance of licenses, ordered by newly elected Mayor Gavin Newsom, is in defiance of a 2000 ballot measure approved by California voters, 61 percent to 37 percent, that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"Today a barrier to true justice has been removed," said Newsom, who did not officiate at any of the ceremonies, although other officials, including city assessor Mabel Teng and state assemblyman Mark Leno, did.
The first to marry were Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Del Martin, 83, who are widely considered to be pioneering activists in the lesbian community. Their wedding -- in a closed-door ceremony -- took place two days shy of their 51st anniversary as a couple.
"I bawled my eyes out," said Kate Kendall, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the witnesses. "After 51 years they get to say, `The government must recognize our relationship.' "
Newsom moved up the issuance of the licenses to outflank a conservative group, the Campaign for California Families, which had planned to go to court today to stop the city's announced plan to issue them.
The group called the marriages a fraud.
"These unlawful certificates are not worth the paper they are printed on," said executive director Randy Thomasson. "The renegade mayor of San Francisco has no authority to do this. This is nothing more than a publicity stunt that disrespects our state law and system of government itself." San Francisco officials, however, insisted the licenses are legally binding and would immediately confer new benefits in everything from health coverage to funeral arrangements. The state's attorney general had no comment.
The county clerk altered marriage applications for the day to include the warning.
The application was gender-neutral, asking for the names of the "first applicant" and the "second applicant."
In an assembly-line process, couples went from the clerk's office to the rotunda for their marriage ceremony, where declarations of "spouse for life" were made. A line of about 30 people snaked out of the clerk's office into a high-ceilinged hallway yesterday afternoon.
"We literally ran out of our offices when we heard the news," said Susan Baker Manning, 33, a lawyer who yesterday wed her partner, Kate Manning, 29, also a lawyer. "We had an emergency run for flowers and a disposable camera."
Molly McKay, who wore a white satin wedding gown with a pearl choker, said that for five years she has led protests at City Hall to convince local officials to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Chelsea Marigliano-Nardella, 3, waited in her stroller while her parents, Joe Marigliano and Gabe Nardella, stood in the line waiting for a license.
"Our 3-year-old asked us the other day, `'Are you married?' " said Nardella, explaining that Chelsea's question was prompted by the wedding bands the two men wear. "We actually had to explain to her that we were not. Now, we can say we are." Tom Hackett, 51, and David Goedeke, 56, said they had planned to go to Massachusetts to wed in June.
"We are going to cancel that," said Hackett of the trip East. While the legality of the San Francisco weddings remains in doubt, the symbolism was perfectly clear to Roxanne Power Hamilton, 40, and Laura Perkins, 40, who said they were taking a long lunch break to get married.
"It feels very historic," Power Hamilton said. "It is a numbers game and it is important to stand up and be counted."
By day's end, 95 marriage licenses were issued and 87 couples were wed.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.