Next week in California, it may seem that florists are snipping more stems and bakers are swirling more frosting than usual. That's because starting June 16 at 5 p.m., same-sex couples will be able to legally marry in the state.
Last month, California's Supreme Court ruled that barring same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional; the ruling goes into effect next week. The state is expecting a rush of same-sex couples to say their vows.
For many same-sex couples, like Leanne Waldal and Moya Watson, this will be a repeat performance. In October, Waldal and Watson plan to get married for the third time. The previous two times were in San Francisco in 2004 and in British Columbia, Canada, in 2007. The first marriage was nullified; until the California Supreme Court ruling, the second marriage wasn't recognized in their home state.
Waldal tells NPR's Melissa Block that the pursuit of marriage "started with a box of chocolates" she gave to Watson for Valentine's Day in 2004. Although neither of them can remember why she was a day early, Waldal gave Watson the chocolates on Feb. 13. "And the wrapping on the outside of the chocolates had a bunch of romantic sayings and quotes and a little marriage proposal," Waldal says.
Around the same time, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom was officiating marriages for gay couples.
"It took us about 30 seconds, and we decided that we would get up the next morning and put on our finest clothes and walk down to City Hall from our house and get married," Waldal says.
But about six months later, their marriage was nullified. The California Supreme Court ruled that Newsom overstepped his legal rights when he issued marriage licenses to more than 4,000 gay couples. The marriage certificates were invalidated.
"It sort of stung, but we brushed ourselves off and went down to the state building and registered as a domestic partnership," Watson says. "And we're happy we can do that, but it's really not the same word as marriage. People don't talk about working hard to create a domestic partnership as they do talk about — let's say — working to create a marriage, a family."
Less than three years later, the couple decided to get a wedding certificate in Vancouver. They invited family and friends to Kitsilano Beach and said their vows on a cold, sunny day in March. They ate oysters, drank champagne and had a "fabulous party," says Waldal.
"It was a beautiful time," Watson says. "But it was still largely symbolic."
That Canadian marriage license is now valid in California, but the women say it's just not the same as marrying in their own hometown — which is why they plan to do it all over again this fall.
As the couple plans their wedding, so are many of their friends and Waldal's sister, who lives in Washington state. Watson says their weekends are filling up fast with weddings.
As for their big day, Waldal jokes that they've narrowed down the list of potential ceremony sites to "20 to 30" of their favorite spots around San Francisco; they plan to invite 70 to 100 guests. Waldal is going to see if she can wear Watson's mom's wedding dress; they're the same size, and it doesn't fit Watson.
The women say their daughter, nearly 4 years old, will be in the wedding and is "over-the-top excited" to wear a party dress that twirls. And Watson says her father always wanted to play the song Sunrise, Sunset at her wedding.
"I think that my father has always dreamt about — you know, like many fathers — his little girl's wedding," Watson says. "And now that this can be legal, I think it might be a dream come true."