Gay marriage: After years of waiting, local couples finally wed

jhickey@thetribunenews.comJuly 1, 2013 

Within half an hour of its 8 a.m. opening, eight same-sex couples had applied for marriage licenses Monday at the San Luis Obispo County Clerk-Recorder’s Office — the first day possible after a federal appellate court lifted a stay on same-sex marriages in California.

By 9:30 a.m., most were married.

Among them were Frances Leili and Leslie Lambert of Nipomo, who have waited for this day for 18 years.

“We are no longer second-class citizens,” Leili said with a beaming smile.

A wide corridor just outside the Board of Supervisors’ chambers became the de-facto marriage chapel — a table was adorned with cupcakes and champagne — and more than a dozen supporters blew bubbles at each wedding. Minister Rod Richards of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo County led the ceremonies.

The first to be married were Milton Carrigan and John Alongi, who have been together since they met in Berkeley in 1996. Wearing matching blue blazers and khaki trousers, the two exchanged rings and honored the moment with a hug.

The Supreme Court last week struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred federal recognition of gay marriages. It also declined to rule on Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage — thereby upholding a lower court’s decision to overturn the ban.

“We’ve been following the news coverage and waiting with bated breath — we weren’t that optimistic,” Alongi said.

Monday’s experience in the San Luis Obispo County Government Center was a far cry from a day in 2004, when Alongi was heckled with a gay slur at a Paso Robles restaurant.

By 4 p.m., county clerk-recorder’s offices in San Luis Obispo and Atascadero had issued 20 marriage licenses, Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald said, and 11 marriage ceremonies had taken place at the Government Center. The office does not keep records that distinguish between gay and straight marriages, Rodewald said.

For some — such as C.R. Taylor-Burns — Monday’s marriage was not their first.

Twenty years ago she married a man, in a traditional ceremony and a long white dress.

“I am not saying I wasn’t in love, but I was very much in denial,” she said.

Taylor-Burns said her first marriage was about doing what was expected of her as a woman — but marrying her four-year partner Melissa Taylor-Burns is about being authentic.

She wore slacks and a tie.

Of the several newlyweds The Tribune interviewed, the salient emotion was relief. “People don’t realize the hardship and the paperwork” that couples like Lilly and Jill Frenier-Smith (their married last name) have had to endure to ensure hospital visitation rights, Jill said.

“We had to have special legal documents drawn up,” she said.

But their legally recognized marriage erases the need for such costly measures.

For Ashley and Morgen Marshall of San Luis Obispo, marriage will allow the couple to remain in California to start a family.

Ashley Marshall is from Canada with a limited visa, and the two had backup plans to move out of the state or leave the country if Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act were not struck down.

But the Marshalls are now thrilled to be married in San Luis Obispo.

“This is where we met; this is our home,” Ashley said.

Gallery: More photos from Monday morning's ceremonies »

Video: A day of celebration

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