Towns and cities across Washington awoke to the sound of wedding bells Sunday morning as hundreds of same-sex couples prepared to tie the knot on the first day they were legally allowed to marry in the state.
Some 140 gay and lesbian weddings were scheduled at Seattle City Hall; meanwhile the First Baptist Church was expecting to marry some 50 couples during a joint ceremony. Though gay marriage became legal on Thursday in Washington, the state requires a three-day waiting period before the actual ceremony is celebrated.
The first wedding to take place in the state occurred minutes after midnight on Sunday morning when Emily and Sarah Cofer tied the knot. Both primary school teachers from Arlington, outside Seattle, they came together in the chambers of a Seattle judge, Mary Yu, who officiated weddings straight through to 7.30am.
“This is what courts are supposed to do, respond to the needs of our community,” Yu told USA Today.
“We’ll sleep later,” her bailiff Takao Yamada added.
Washington is the first of three states to initiate gay marriages following referendums of their voters on 6 November. The other two, Maine and Maryland, will usher in legal same-sex unions from 29 December and 1 January 2013 respectively.
Those states join six others – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, as well as the District of Columbia – that have already allowed gay marriages through court rulings or legislation. The constitutional issue of whether the practice should now be imposed upon the remaining 41 states that do not permit it, or left to the judgment of each individual state, will be settled by the US supreme court, which on Friday agreed to take up the highly contentious issue.
“We never thought we’d be part of history,” said Sarah, 31. She had a commitment ceremony with Emily, 32, two years ago and they have a nine-month-old daughter, Carter.
Over at the Seattle yacht club Monica Rozgay, 29, and Mary Davidson, 27, marked their midnight marriage both dressed in elaborate white dresses. They had coincidentally planned to mark their relationship in a non-legal ceremony on Saturday and then, when Referendum 74 passed with a 54% approval rate, they arranged to make the union binding at on the stroke of midnight.
“It’s so crazy and amazing,” Rozgay told the Seattle Times.
Despite the historic nature of the day’s weddings, the couples involved still face unequal treatment. Any of those now married to employees of the federal government will be denied access to federal pensions, health insurance and other benefits to which heterosexual spouses.
That discrimination, under the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits federal recognition of gay unions, will also be reviewed by the supreme court.