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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February, 2004, 14:49 GMT
Gays flock to beat marriage deadline
By Maggie Shiels
BBC, San Francisco

Sealed with a kiss is how actor Grant Tyler Peterson and university sociology professor Eric Anderson started their newly married life.

Eric Anderson and Grant Tyler Peterson
Eric and Grant celebrate their union
They were one of more than 2,000 couples to take part in an historic event that has resulted in San Francisco being the only place in America where gays and lesbians can get married.

But that might not last for much longer. Opponents of same-sex marriage are going to court to ask a judge to stop the city from issuing such licences and to void the ones they have already granted.

Clutching the prized piece of paper that states 24-year-old Grant and 36-year-old Eric are now spouses for life, Grant was unfazed by the court action and said he would fight for the right to remain married.

"We will sue and appeal and appeal until it works it way up through the courts," he said.

Eric was equally combative.

"We will do everything, we will sue and we will sue until we are considered full equal citizens under the law," he said.


This was the main reason why San Francisco's newly-elected Mayor, Gavin Newsom, led the city in what is regarded as a unique act of civil disobedience.

On 12 February he told officials to begin issuing marriage licences to gay and lesbian couples.

Protesters in favour of same-sex marriage
Gay couples want the same rights as heterosexuals
He has gone on record to say that state law that defines marriage as only between a man and a woman is unconstitutional discrimination against gays and lesbians.

But the Campaign for California Families is in complete disagreement and is one group behind the legal action.

"Marriage is only for a man and a woman," said the organisation's director Randy Thomasson. "You need an egg and a sperm to create a child. You need a man and a woman to create a marriage.

"It's a beautiful, special, sacred and exclusive relationship that is the foundation of family."

Taking the plunge

Mary Leyola Gaddis, 54, a steam fitter, vehemently disagrees.

Mary said that while she and her partner, Judith Cayot, have not always been advocates of marriage, they decided to take the plunge because they believed they should have the same choices as heterosexual couples.

"It's absurd that anyone who loves each other can't have it recognised, celebrated and honoured," she said.

After 21 years together, the two women exchanged vows and rings in a corner near the stairs in the main rotunda of City Hall.

Couples queuing outside City Hall in San Francisco
Hundreds of couples went to City Hall hoping to beat the court case
In the background, cheers and whoops from other couples reverberated around the room, drowning out the strains of "Here Comes the Bride" which was being played on the harp and flute.

For her part, Judith admitted that, despite their reservations, this was a day they would never forget or regret.

"We were invited to do this on Friday but we said no. We were convinced by friends who came and said that this is a wonderful time and to be a part of history and to celebrate. It seemed like a really important thing to do," she said.

Being part of history is another reason why so many hundreds of couples queued for up to 15 hours to get a licence to allow them to marry.

Lines of people have snaked around City Hall for days in an attempt to beat the court case that might end the wedding frenzy taking place in San Francisco.

'Wake-up call'

Massimo Pacilli, 30, a dancer, flew in from Chicago to join his partner Geoff Myers, who is performing in the Lion King musical in San Francisco.

"This is the happiest day of my life. I never thought it would come," Massimo told BBC News Online. "We are shaking the foundations. Something will come of it, I am very hopeful of that."

His spouse, Geoff, thinks San Francisco will serve as a wake-up call to the rest of the country.

"It's such a huge news story and it will reach middle America and I think it's just wonderful for America to see this many gay and lesbian committed relationships and that love is universal," he said.

Maria Castillo and Georgina Graciano
Maria and Georgina pledged to fight to allow others to share their joy
Bill Jones, 75, who was officiating, said for him it was also a dream come true.

As he married Maria Castillo and Georgina Graciano, he told them: "I never thought I would see this happen. Thank you both for giving me the privilege to marry you. It means a lot to me."

And while Maria told BBC News Online their wedding was "a way to show the world we really love one another", she pledged to fight to allow others to share her joy.

"I'll make sure I am part of any lawsuit," she said. "I have always had it in my heart that this would happen. It must be allowed to happen for others."

For the lucky ones who did manage to get the opportunity to say "I do" to one another, the festive atmosphere spilled outside where a mariachi band greeted newly-weds on the steps of City Hall.

Those trying to seal their love in case the court rules against such marriages had until 1400 local time (2200 GMT) on 17 February.

Gays rush to San Francisco to wed
15 Feb 04  |  Americas
US state court says gays can wed
04 Feb 04  |  Americas
Making much of marriage
22 Jan 04  |  Americas

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