The first wedding was that of Berkeley couple Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, one of two couples who were part of the lawsuit, named after Perry and known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, that struck down the state’s ban against same-sex marriage.
At 4:15 p.m. they had picked up their marriage license, and by 4:55 p.m. state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who officiated the wedding on the mayor’s balcony in the Rotunda, had declared them spouses for life. Within seconds across City Hall at the lightwell at the top of the grand staircase a female couple from Georgia were the second to marry.
The first male couple to say “I do” were Bobby Meadows, 40, and Craig Stein, 39, from San Francisco. They had been engaged for two and a half years, having agreed to marry back in 2010 when a federal district court judge initially found the ban, known as Proposition 8, to be unconstitutional.
“We had called the clerk’s office and had made an appointment back then to get married,” said Stein.
But the judge imposed a stay on his ruling, so the men have been waiting ever since for the day they could exchange their vows. They headed down to City Hall, wedding rings in hand, as soon as they heard the marriages had resumed.
“We thought we would come down and check it out. There was no one here so we decided to do it,” said Stein.
They are planning to have a big ceremony sometime next year with family and friends to celebrate.
“It sounds kind of funny, but we don’t want to rush that,” said Stein. “We weren’t going to talk about it until we could get married. We will probably wait till next year to give us some time to do it right.”
Perry and Stier had a private wedding ceremony with family and friends on August 1, 2004 after their first exchange of wedding vows in February of that year was later annulled by the state Supreme Court. Due to that experience, they opted not to marry again during the summer and fall of 2008 when same-sex couples had a four-month window to legally wed.
During an interview with the Bay Area Reporter Thursday night, the women said they planned to have their civil marriage as soon as possible and were unsure when that would be. They awoke Friday morning and went to work, thinking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would wait until late July to lift the stay on the lower court’s ruling.
When they heard the court had decided to allow the weddings to occur immediately, they scrambled to City Hall with their son Elliot, who served as the ring bearer. Their three other sons were in New York, San Diego and North Carolina.
“Fortunately, they all look alike so we told Elliot he has to represent them all,” joked Stier. “We will have a big celebration when they will be able to be together and we will dance the night away.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who launched the American Foundation for Equal Rights in 2008 in order to bring forward the legal challenge to Prop 8, told a scrum of media gathered to witness the historic events that, “Today, we are all more American.”
Griffin added, “Marriage has returned to the great state of California. No one can take that away. No judge, no election. No one.”
He was already in San Francisco to attend the city’s annual Pride parade in which Perry and Stier and a number of AFER staffers will march Sunday. AFER and the San Francisco City Attorney’s office had planned a press conference on Saturday to discuss the marriage rulings with the local media and were caught off guard by the appellate court’s decision to lift the stay.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office has litigated the fight for marriage rights on behalf of same-sex couples since 2004, had already left City Hall for the day and had to scramble back in order to make it in time to witness Perry and Stier’s marriage.
“Who could think of a better lead-in to Pride weekend than to celebrate your marriage,” Herrera said during a press conference following the couple’s ceremony.
Gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), center in the photo at right, was meeting with constituents in his district office in the State Building next to City Hall when he learned the news and rushed over for the wedding.
“I didn’t know what couple it even was,” said Leno, who twice passed marriage equality bills in the state Legislature only to see then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger veto the legislation.
He suggested the appellate court’s reversal on lifting the stay was likely due to the “resolute statements” earlier in the week by both Kamala and Governor Jerry Brown that there was no reason to wait on resuming the gay nuptials.
“I can’t think of one good reason why it should have waited. Clearly, the court was of the same mind,” said Leno, who had been scheduled to introduce San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee at the annual transgender march kicking off in Dolores Park tonight.
But Leno could be found marrying a male couple from Daly City who had come down to City Hall to wed. He had moments before joked with the B.A.R. that he had his “script ready to go,” pulling out a piece of paper with the standard marriage ceremony outlined on it from his suit pocket.
“You are my constituents,” Leno told the men after asking them where they were from following the ceremony.
City Hall to be open Saturday and Sunday for weddings
The county clerk’s office is open until at least 8 p.m. tonight (Friday, June 28) and will also be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 29 and Sunday, June 30.
Lee said in a statement that he was “so proud” to see Harris marry Stier and Perry Friday.
“Now, and from this day forward, same-sex couples can share in the same joy that is available to all Americans,” Lee stated. “And while we will continue the struggle for marriage equality and civil rights for EVERY American in every state, we pause today to reflect on the historic nature of this very important milestone in our country’s history.”
Following the direction of the governor, the state Department of Public Health notified clerks and registrar/recorders in all 58 counties Friday that same-sex marriage is now legal in the state, “and that marriage licenses must be issued to same-sex couples immediately,” a statement from Brown’s office said.
While waiting with Stier and Perry at the clerk’s office in San Francisco Harris was spotted on the phone with the county clerk in Los Angeles. There was some doubt on if that office could marry the other Prop 8 plaintiffs, Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, who were set to be the second couple to official marry today.
“I had a little talk with the clerk in L.A. There was some confusion on when the marriages could begin,” Harris later told reporters. “I was very direct that the marriages could begin.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) cheered Friday’s events.
“What has been a momentous week for Californians, and indeed all Americans, continues,” Pelosi stated. “As we celebrate Pride in San Francisco, we are filled with joy as marriages resume in our state and we continue to savor the historic wins this week for all LGBT Americans and their families. Our fight continues – as we keep working to ensure the fair treatment of LGBT couples wherever they live in our country and ensure that justice is done for every American, no matter who they love.”
Lee, Harris, and other elected officials are expected to appear on the main stage at San Francisco’s Pride celebration Sunday.
Main stage producer Audrey Joseph had struggled to draw big-name entertainers to the free event this year, but said in a brief call Friday, “My headliner has always been marriage. … I’ve always known that was what it was going to be about.”
As one might expect, the backers of Prop 8 weren’t at all pleased with Friday’s developments.
“[I]t is a disgraceful day for California,” Prop 8 General Counsel Andy Pugno said in a statement from the group Protect Marriage.
He said the 9th Circuit Court’s decision to lift the stay was “depriving us of our right to ask for reconsideration.”
“This outrageous act of judicial tyranny 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,” Pugno said. “… The resumption of same-sex marriage this day has been obtained by illegitimate means. If our opponents rejoice in achieving their goal in a dishonorable fashion, they should be ashamed.”
He added, “It remains to be seen whether the fight can go on.”
The B.A.R. will have more wedding coverage in its July 4 issue, which hits the streets Wednesday, July 3 due to the Fourth of July holiday.