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JACKI LYDEN, host:

This week, the District of Columbia started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. About 150 couples applied for the licenses, and soon there was a flurry or weddings - some in churches and a few in an office.

Activists felt they'd achieved a just struggle after 30 years.

At the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign in downtown Washington, three couples got married - four lesbians and two gay men. All have been together for years and all were African-American.

Many of Washington's black citizens have strong feelings about gay marriage, and polls have shown that the majority are opposed, particularly those who are older or religious. So, while I couldn't help but be moved by these couples - together for many years, and in one case, hoisting their toddler girls - other people felt the weddings were immoral.

Many of Washington's black ministers don't turn away unmarried African-American women with children, yet they have condemned black people who want to marry same-sex partners and raise children. And it's not just black ministers. One D.C. councilmember who voted against gay marriage was none other than Marion Barry, the one-time civil rights activist and four-term mayor of Washington.

Barry was recently censured by the City Council for steering a contract to a girlfriend, and he was once arrested in a hotel room with a woman not his wife for smoking crack cocaine.

To Marion Barry, the one-time crusader for civil rights, the right to same-sex marriage isn't a civil right. But it was to those ministers and friends and family of the couples who took their vows this week, couples who'd long been denied the right to marry.

One of the men, the father of those two little girls, was Reggie Stanley. Today, the arch of the moral universe is long and bends towards justice, he told his partner during their ceremony at the Human Rights Campaign office. But today and every day, the arch of my love is longer and bends towards you.

It was a joy to see photos showing the radiant looks on the faces of the newly married black men and women, their commitment legally recognized in the nation's capital, walking away from their ceremonies while an African-American singer crooned, don't go changing to try and please me. I love you just the way you.

(Soundbite of song, "I Love You Just the Way You Are")

Mr. BILLY JOEL (Musician): (Singing) Don't go changing, to try and please me, you never let me down before. Don't imagine, you're too familiar...

LYDEN: You're listening to NPR News.

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