San Francisco - Uttering the two simple words "I do," dozens of same-sex couples were wed in the Bay Area on Monday evening as California became the second state in the nation to grant marriage rights to gay men and lesbians.
County clerks braced for an even bigger rush of couples who will tie the knot today when all 58 counties in the state begin issuing marriage licenses that no longer designate "bride" and "groom" but instead "party A" and "party B."
A crowd gathered Monday evening at the Sonoma County clerk's office in Santa Rosa, including 19 same-sex couples who had made appointments to marry. The crowd counted down the last seconds to 5:01 p.m., when the state Supreme Court's decision allowing the marriages took effect.
Mark Gren and Chris Lechman of Guerneville were the first couple to apply for a marriage license and wed.
"Now, by the power vested in me and in accordance with the laws of the state of California, it is my pleasure and honor to pronounce you married," Sonoma County Clerk Janice Atkinson told the couple.
In San Francisco, 200 couples have made appointments to obtain marriage licenses today at City Hall, said Karen Hong, director of the county clerk's office. Longtime lesbian-rights pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were the only couple wed there Monday.
So far, 2,303 same-sex couples have appointments to obtain a marriage license in the next 90 days in San Francisco. Nearly 1,800 of those couples will have their ceremony at City Hall, Hong said. She expects the rush of applicants for marriage licenses to level off over the next few weeks.
In Oakland on Monday night, Kenneth Latham and Keith Boadwee of Emeryville joined hands and looked into each other's eyes as they recited wedding vows to become the first same-sex couple married in Alameda County. They have been together 10 years and one month.
"We've been together so long we know what it means to be a couple," Boadwee said. "However, now that we have the legal protection, wherever we go throughout the state, people will recognize it."
Besides San Francisco, Sonoma and Alameda counties, weddings also were performed Monday night in Yolo and Los Angeles counties.
Like San Francisco, Los Angeles County married just one couple. Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, who were plaintiffs in the landmark marriage case, exchanged their vows in a traditional Jewish ceremony in Beverly Hills.
"We're not nervous. We've known each other 15 years," Tyler said.
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Even as dozens of couples exchanged vows around the state, many more worked on last-minute wedding plans.
Salvador Valles and Dean Jansen, who live in New York City and have been together 14 years, are returning to San Francisco, where they first met, to pick up a marriage license. They'll marry in a ceremony this evening at a friend's Berkeley home.
They are registered domestic partners in California and New York but have never held any type of commitment ceremony.
"We really wanted to wait until we could get married," Valles said. They have worn rings on their right ring fingers and plan to put new rings on their left hands today.
"I can't wait to introduce him to others as my husband," Jansen said.
Protesters are expected in droves today outside county clerks' offices in several California counties. People opposed to same-sex marriage gathered on the sidewalk outside of San Francisco City Hall on Monday night but were quickly outnumbered by supporters of the unions.
A woman from the church of Kansas pastor Fred Phelps - whose followers are known for their harsh anti-gay rhetoric - stood behind police barricades in Civic Center, holding derogatory signs and singing songs with her two children. Someone else drove around the block in a truck painted to look like an American flag that read, "Sodomy is sin."
One of the protesters, Luong Bo, said he drove up from San Jose. Bo held a giant sign that read, "Homo sex is a threat to national security."
Others were there to support the couples. One man strummed a guitar and sang "The Chapel of Love," while Kathryn Werhane threw rose petals on some of the protesters.
"We want to support these weddings - it's love and tolerance for real," she said. "Any proclamation of love is good with us. Why are they crashing our party?"
© 2008 The San Francisco Chronicle