Same-sex weddings usher in new era in Washington state

Brian M. RosenthalThe New York Times,Erik LacitisThe Seattle Times

SEATTLE -- From the lobby of Seattle City Hall to private living rooms in Spokane and at churches, courtrooms and wineries in towns and cities in between, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples gathered Sunday to do what not long ago seemed impossible: get married.

The first to wed under Washington state's new same-sex-marriage law, they arrived by countless paths -- from the Bellevue retirees who had spent decades together to the Olympia college students who got engaged last month on election night.

A few hosted elaborate nuptials to widely proclaim their love. Many, given the brief time they had to prepare, joined in lively group weddings at Seattle City Hall and places of worship around the state.

And some, such as the Lynnwood couple whose relationship caused one of them to be discharged from the Navy, held small signing ceremonies to make legal the commitments they already considered unbreakable.

But on Sunday, the newlyweds agreed: This was history.

"I didn't realize how much I felt like a second-class citizen until today, when I'm not," Seattle technology worker Jay McCanta, 52, said, moments after marrying his partner of six years, Brad McCanta. "I never thought this day would come."

More than 1,000 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in counties across Washington since the state's voter-approved marriage law took effect Thursday. Because of a three-day waiting period, Sunday marked the first day they could wed.

Many couples said they plan to marry later, especially during Gay Pride weekend in June.

Most ceremonies on Sunday, including group events that simultaneously united many couples, were in Seattle. Often, those sharing the spotlight had little in common other than the fact that last week, they were not allowed to marry, but on Sunday they could -- and did.

The events in Seattle culminated with a reception at the Paramount Theatre attended by an estimated 2,000 people, and the wedding of the matriarchs of the Washington same-sex-marriage movement, Pete-e Petersen and Jane Abbott Lighty.

In Eastern Washington, where many voted against the same-sex-marriage law, the relatively few ceremonies were mostly smaller affairs like the one at the Pioneer Park aviary in Walla Walla. There, Kathleen Claymore and Shara Orcutt, the only couple in the county to marry, did so at the spot where they became engaged.

Also among Sunday's newlyweds were some from out of state, especially Oregon, who came to take advantage of the first same-sex-marriage law on the West Coast. In all, nine states, along with the District of Columbia, allow gay marriage or will soon.

Same-sex-marriage supporters said they hope Washington's move spurs other states to follow suit.

"Hey, rest of the country: Get on board. There's nothing but love and happiness happening here," Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said amid the ceremonies at City Hall.

Same-sex-marriage day in Washington started with a coincidence.

For more than a year -- long before gay marriage was even on the ballot -- Monica Rozgay, 29, and Mary Davidson, 27, had planned to hold a commitment ceremony Dec. 8, 2012.

The Seattle couple still held that ceremony Saturday evening, an event at the Yacht Club with 170 guests who ate Dick's burgers, danced to pop music and honored two women in strapless white bridal gowns.

And then, at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, the couple did another ceremony to make it legal.

"It is my privilege and it is my honor to declare you legally married," officiant Annemarie Juhlian announced just after midnight to raucous applause.

Even before Sunday, Jim Malatak and Rick Sturgill held a place in history as the first registered domestic partners in Washington state.

But a wedding, the Seattle couple said before getting married at Seattle City Hall midday, is much more special.

"This is marriage," said Sturgill, 58, who said he proposed to Malatak, now 70, the night they met at a disco club 35 years ago.

"It was late and he was the last one on the dance floor," Sturgill said. "I was upstairs and I looked down and I watched him dance and I knew there was nobody else for me."

"Thirty-five years later, I said yes," Malatak said.

Also among the 142 couples married at City Hall were Danielle Yung, 32, and Robin Wyss, 34, who have been together for eight years, having met through an Internet dating site.

Yung, who is five months' pregnant, works for the U.S. Department of Labor. Wyss is an organizer for the Service Employees International Union.

"Now our child will always know us as a married couple," Yung said.



The Seattle Times