WASHINGTON — Couples waited in line for hours Wednesday to apply for marriage licenses on the first day same-sex unions became legal in the nation’s capital.
Cheering erupted from the crowd when the first couple signed in at the city’s marriage bureau inside the Moultrie courthouse, just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. By the afternoon, more than 100 couples had come to the bureau, and more than 50 had completed their applications. The rest stood in line in the courthouse corridor, checking e-mail, reading newspapers and exchanging stories with other couples.
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Because of a mandatory waiting period of three business days, couples won’t be able to marry in the District of Columbia until Tuesday. But the mood Wednesday was still celebratory. Couples got cupcakes from a city councilman who sponsored the gay marriage law, and throughout the morning, people applauded as they exited the marriage bureau with their applications complete.
Sinjoyla Townsend, 41, and her partner of 12 years, Angelisa Young, 47, claimed the first spot in line just after 6 a.m. They are already domestic partners in the city but wanted to become legally married.
“It’s like waking up Christmas morning,” said Young, who teared up when she sat down to process their paperwork. “It’s really like a dream come true.”
Most couples applying for licenses were from the district and nearby Maryland and Virginia, but one couple had gotten on the road at 4 a.m. to drive from West Virginia. Many said they had already had marriage ceremonies — some years ago — but wanted marriage certificates. And they said they attached special importance to being at the courthouse on the first day.
“This shows that there’s a buildup, waiting for this to happen,” said Christopher Grieder, 46, of Herndon, Va., who has been with Stuart Kopperman, 53, for 14 years and is planning an April 3 wedding.
Others said they felt an urgency to get married while they can. Eva Townsend and Shana McDavis-Conway had a wedding in St. Croix in 2008 and are registered domestic partners.
But McDavis-Conway is from California, where same-sex marriages were legal for a time before voters decided to ban them. She said she wanted to get married now in Washington in case something similar happens there.
Townsend and McDavis-Conway planned to go in late to work, though other people in line said they had taken the day off. Couples spent the time talking to their neighbors in line and relating their love stories. One couple met online on a Star Trek fan film site, another dancing at a country and western bar.
Emma White, 30, and Stephanie White, 40, met volunteering on Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign and had a wedding ceremony in 2006. Emma is pregnant with a baby due in April. The couple — No. 58 in line — said they wouldn’t do another big wedding because they had already been married.
Stephanie White said the government was “just “catching up” to what had already happened, though it makes her feel “a little more secure” to have a marriage license.
Washington is the sixth place in the nation where gay marriages can take place. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont also issue licenses to same-sex couples.
To prepare for Wednesday, the marriage bureau changed its license applications so they are gender-neutral, asking for the name of each “spouse” rather than the “bride” and “groom.” The bureau also brought in temporary employees to help its regular staff.
“Everybody who wants a marriage license is going to get one. It may take a little longer, but they will get their license,” courthouse spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz said.
Normally, the bureau handles just 10 applications a day. Two heterosexual couples did show up Wednesday morning. Matt Lawson, 30, and Christine Vander Molen, 27, said they learned last night that they could expect a crowd at the marriage bureau on the historic day. But they are getting married next weekend and couldn’t wait any longer to apply for a license. Vander Molen said she didn’t mind being the “odd couple out” and found it funny when one person looked at them quizzically and asked, “You two are getting married to each other?”
The gay marriage law was introduced in the 13-member D.C. Council in October and had near-unanimous support from the beginning. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty signed it in December, but because Washington is a federal district, the law had to undergo a congressional review period that expired March 2.
Opponents, however, are still attempting to overturn the bill in court. That worries Eric North and Tom French, both 45, who were waiting in line Wednesday at the courthouse.
“We want to get in when we can,” French said.
“I want to be able to say I’m married,” North added.