The first ‘I do’ is done — thousands yet to come

It took six minutes for the state to recognize what Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin have known for 55 years — that they are spouses for life.

Holding hands Monday evening, the pioneering pair joined a handful of same-sex couples statewide to be legally married.

Just after 5 p.m. — when last month’s decision by the state Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriages took effect — Lyon, 83, and Martin, 87, entered the office of Mayor Gavin Newsom to loud applause and the hoots of approximately 50 invited guests.

Despite arriving at the altar in a wheelchair, Martin, who donned a lavender suit, stood for the ceremony in the hot room, which had a wedding aisle created by masking tape.

Presided over by Newsom, the ceremony began exactly at 5:01 p.m., as declared by the director of the County Clerk’s Office. Former Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg and Judge Donna Hitchens acted as witnesses for the couple.

“The contract of marriage is most solemn and is not to be entered into lightly, but thoughtfully and seriously,” said Newsom, drawing laughter. Lyon and Martin spoke in intimate hush tones and exchanged two green-stoned, tear-shaped rings.

The ceremony ended with Newsom pronouncing Lyon and Martin “spouses for life” as they hugged. When the couple exited to the office to cut a three-tiered rose, crème fraîche mousse and berries cake, they were showered with flower petals.

Lyon said that after 55 years together, the ceremony hadn’t changed much about their relationship pragmatically, saying she felt “exactly the same.”

Newsom asked the couple to be the first in San Francisco to be legally wed, as they were the first to be married by the mayor in 2004 when he authorized giving marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The move set off the legal firestorm that ended with last month’s state Supreme Court ruling that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The wedding in San Francisco was among several others; in at least five other counties statewide, county clerks kept offices open to issue marriage licenses. Today, a rush of weddings is expected when nearly all California counties will start issuing licenses.

The battle for same-sex marriage in California is not finished, however. In November, voters will weigh in on an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriages, placed on the ballot by a coalition of conservative groups.

“I think the people will have the final word in November,” said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a conservative group. To that end, the single wedding of Lyon and Martin on Monday was part of a political strategy by gay-rights advocates to introduce the issue to California voters, Newsom said.

“If we went out and very aggressively did lots of marriages all at the same time, in a way that threw it in people’s faces, then people may say, ‘I’m not even interested. I’m not even listening,’” he said.

dsmith@sfexaminer.com

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