Same-sex couples in Wash. say ‘I do’

Newlyweds Heather Laird, left, and Dawn Rains smile as flower petals are tossed their way as they depart Seattle City Hall on Sunday. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a voter-approved law legalizing gay marriage Wednesday, and weddings for gay and lesbian couples began Sunday in Washington. Enlarge photo

Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Newlyweds Heather Laird, left, and Dawn Rains smile as flower petals are tossed their way as they depart Seattle City Hall on Sunday. Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a voter-approved law legalizing gay marriage Wednesday, and weddings for gay and lesbian couples began Sunday in Washington.

SEATTLE – Same-sex couples in Washington state began reciting wedding vows at events across the state Sunday, on the first day they could marry after the state’s gay-marriage law took effect.

About 140 couples had registered to marry at Seattle City Hall, which had set up five separate chapels to accommodate the revelers. Starting at 10 a.m., cheers and applause regularly broke out as another couple’s marriage became official. Weddings at City Hall were to continue through 5 p.m.

Mayor Mike McGinn, who greeted couples at they arrived, called it a “great day, a joyous day.”

“It’s really wonderful,” he said. “A new civil right is going to be recognized in this great civil institution.”

Keith Bacon and Corianton Hale of Seattle, who celebrated their six-year anniversary the night before, hugged and kissed to loud cheers and camera flashes as they took their vows before one of the 16 local judges who volunteered to officiate the weddings on Sunday.

“We’re totally thrilled,” Bacon said. The couple had done a commitment ceremony in August but said this day was particularly special.

“We had looked at this as maybe a day we would sign a piece of paper and seal the deal, and instead we’re having this huge party being thrown in our honor,” Bacon said. “It’s just mind blowing.”

Last month, Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote. They joined six other states – New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont – and the District of Columbia that had already enacted laws or issued court rulings permitting same-sex marriage.

Couples in Maryland also started getting marriage licenses Thursday, though their licenses won’t take effect until Jan. 1. Maine’s law takes effect Dec. 29. There’s no waiting period in Maine, and people can start marrying just after midnight.

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed certified the election results of Referendum 74 on Wednesday afternoon, and the law took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Same-sex couples who previously were married in another state that allows gay marriage, like Massachusetts, will not have to get remarried in Washington state. Their marriages became valid here as soon as the law took effect.

The referendum had asked voters to either approve or reject the state law legalizing same-sex marriage that legislators passed earlier this year. That law was signed by Gregoire in February but was put on hold pending the outcome of the election. Nearly 54 percent of voters approved the measure.

The law doesn’t require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and it doesn’t subject churches to penalties if they don’t marry gay or lesbian couples.

Married same-sex couples will still be denied access to federal pensions, health insurance and other government benefits available to heterosexual couples because the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, bars federal recognition of gay unions.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday said it will take up gay marriage sometime during the current term. Several pending cases challenge the federal benefit provision of DOMA, and a separate appeal asks the justices to decide whether federal courts were correct in striking down California’s Proposition 8, the amendment that outlawed gay marriage after it had been approved by courts in the nation’s largest state.