Gay couples officially married in San Francisco

Two lesbians who have been living together for more than 50 years were the first to marry at city hall Thursday under a new city directive, leading the way for a host of other same-sex marriages and setting the stage for a heated debate over the legality of the ceremony. California family law states that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." Nonetheless, the San Francisco county clerk issued the women, Phyllis Lyon, 79, and Del Martin, 83, an official marriage certificate and said the act was legal. They were married by the county assessor.

By late Thursday afternoon, at least 50 other gay couples had been married and others, some dressed in wedding gowns and dark suits, were waiting their turn.

Hallye Jordan, a spokeswoman for the California attorney general, Bill Lockyer, said Mr. Lockyer had not been asked to render an opinion on the matter, but that he was investigating the constitutional issues surrounding gay marriage.

Asked if the marriage certificates issued in San Francisco were legal, Ms. Jordan said, "We don't know."

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, served as a witness to the Lyon-Martin marriage. Ms. Kendell acknowledged that under California law marriage must be between people of opposite sex, but she said the requirement was unconstitutional.

"It is in the highest order of civic responsibility when you see a law that does not treat your citizens equally," Ms. Kendell said, "to make a stand," informs &to=' target=_blank>NYTimes

Two days before Valentine's Day, Mayor Gavin Newsom gave the go-ahead to the county clerk to accept marriage license applications from same-gender couples.

While the legality of the marriages was still unclear, it put California at the center of an election-year storm swirling around the issue. In Massachusetts, legislators struggled through the second day of a constitutional convention called to deal with a state Supreme Court ruling three months ago that upheld same-sex marriages. In Virginia, one of 38 states that ban same-sex marriages, legislators gave preliminary approval to a bill that would strengthen the current ban. The marriages prompted a blizzard of litigious threats from both sides of the controversy.

The first gay couple to obtain a license were Del Martin, 83, and Phyllis Lyon, 79, well-known lesbian activists for whom a women's medical clinic in San Francisco is named.

"Phyllis and I demonstrated our commitment to one another more than half a century ago," Martin said in a prepared statement. "Today, San Francisco has demonstrated its commitment to us through equality and fairness." Later, Patrick Fahey and Chuck Prosper, who have been together for 19 years and have a 19-month-old son they adopted at birth, said getting married won't change the dynamics between the two men. "It just feels good to be like my brother and his wife, like straight friends who have gotten married," Fahey said, reports &to=' target=_blank>Sacbee

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