Octogenarian Gay-Rights Pioneers Wed in California In California, two elderly women were one of the first same-sex couples to marry in the state. Their marriage begins a busy week for county registrars around the Golden State. The state's Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage took effect Monday.
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Octogenarian Gay-Rights Pioneers Wed in California

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Octogenarian Gay-Rights Pioneers Wed in California

Octogenarian Gay-Rights Pioneers Wed in California

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You can expect gay and lesbian couples to line up this morning in county clerk offices across California to get marriage licenses. That's now legal, because of the California Supreme Court's decision. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom officiated at one of the first same-sex weddings last night. Two women in their 80s, icons of the gay rights movement, held a private ceremony at City Hall. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Sarah Varney has more.

SARAH VARNEY: Phyllis Lyon, 83, and Del Martin, 87, became a couple more than half a century ago and went on to start the first national group for lesbians. Last night, the elderly women married in a small ceremony in Mayor Newsom's office, and then emerged to an adorning crowd.


VARNEY: Newsom said presiding over the wedding ceremony is a great privilege.

GAVIN NEWSOM: I think today, marriage as an institution has been strengthened. I think today, marriage has been affirmed.

VARNEY: Four years ago, Newsom challenged the state's same-sex marriage ban and ordered city officials to marry gay couples. He asked Lyon and Martin to go first. The California Supreme Court later ruled that Newsom overstepped his authority. The court then invalidated Lyon and Martin's marriage license, along with 4,000 others. The same court, after considering the constitutionality of California's same-sex marriage ban, ruled that gay men and lesbians do have the constitutional right to marry, and that right took affect yesterday afternoon. Standing in front of a three-tiered wedding cake, Lyon rested her hands on the back of her wife's wheelchair and remembered when they met.

PHYLLIS LYON: When we first got together, we weren't really thinking about getting married. We were just thinking about getting together.

VARNEY: And with that, the couple cut their wedding cake and left for a quiet reception with friends and family. Stuart Gaffney and his partner of 21 years, John Lewis, were on hand for the celebration. They'll be married this morning at San Francisco City Hall. Their families have flown in from the Midwest, New York and Southern California, including Gaffney's parents, an interracial couple who wed after California legalized interracial marriage six decades ago.

STUART GAFFNEY: Well, they're both going to be here with us in City Hall tomorrow, watching us exchange vows. And as we look at each other with love, we're going to see that love reflected back by our parents, right there with us, another generation in our family getting legally married. It's going to be a beautiful day.


VARNEY: Outside of City Hall, hundreds of supporters and some opponents of gay marriage gathered. Those protesting carried signs that said re-criminalize sodomy, and God hates lying sinners. Born-again Christian Bill Hampsmire traveled from the East Bay city of Fremont to demonstrate against the nuptials.

BILL HAMPSMIRE: I think God is going to destroy this nation, not just this - California. Look at all our jobs, our jobs are going overseas. God is judging this nation. It's going to get worse.

VARNEY: Helen Gould of Oakland, California held a sign that read married heteros support you.

HELEN GOULD: I have so many friends who are so excited about getting married, and it's really way past time for married heteros to come forward and support their friends.

VARNEY: More than 650 same-sex couples have made appointments to get marriage licenses in San Francisco, and thousands more are expected to marry around the state in the coming weeks. It's not clear what will happen to those marriages if voters approve a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would ban gay marriage.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah Varney in San Francisco.

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