(DC Agenda video by Steve Fox)
Under the watchful eye of nearly two dozen television cameras and news photographers, three same-sex couples took their wedding vows Tuesday morning before about 150 guests at a ceremony held less than a mile from the White House.
The weddings, held at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters, were among the first to take place after the city’s same-sex marriage law took effect last week.
D.C. residents Angelisa Young, 47, and Sinjoyla Townsend, 41, who have been a couple for 12 years, were the first to say “I do” after exchanging rings before a barrage of clicking cameras.
“Today was like a dream for me,” Young said after the ceremony. “I always felt like it would come true. But it’s here now, and it’s really real, we want to thank everyone who made this possible.”
Next to exchange their wedding vows at the ceremony were Reginald Stanley and Rocky Galloway, both 50. As Rev. Sylvia Sumter performed the wedding, the couples’ two 16-month-old daughters watched with interest as they were held in the arms of two adult family members just a few feet away.
The last of the three couples to marry during the HRC ceremony were Rev. Elder Darlene Garner and Rev. Lorilyn Candy Holmes, members of the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, which has a mostly gay congregation. Rev. Dwayne Johnson, pastor of the church, performed the marriage.
“Today, the love you have is recognized by the District of Columbia,” Johnson said. “I now declare you legally married.”
HRC Vice President David Smith said the building’s first-floor meeting hall, which the group calls the Equality Forum, has been host to numerous same-sex commitment ceremonies in the past and the group was delighted to provide its facility for one of the first same-sex marriages in the District.
But while the three weddings at the HRC building drew most of the media spotlight, two other same-sex weddings Tuesday morning held at the D.C. Superior Court building are believed to have been the first such marriages to take place under the city’s Religious Freedom & Marriage Equality Amendment Act.
District residents Jeremy Moon, 31, and Bryan Legaspi, 30, both of whom work in the Obama administration, wed shortly after the court opened at 8:30 a.m. in a courtroom ceremony performed by Judge Brook Hedge.
At the same time, D.C. residents Robb Hawthorne, 24, and James Betz, 23, were married on a plaza outside the courthouse by Rev. Bonnie Berger. Hawthorne and Betz, who met while they were students at George Washington University, both work at the university’s affiliated clinic, Medical Faculty Associates.
Hawthorne said the two met Berger through her role as a chaplain at George Washington University Hospital.
“We arrived at the courthouse at 3:30 in the morning to get in line,” Hawthorne said, noting that the couple wanted to be among the first to pick up their marriage licenses.
The city’s existing marriage law requires a waiting period of three business days between the time people apply for a marriage license and the time it is issued by the court. More than 200 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses beginning March 3, when the same-sex marriage law took effect, through March 5, according to a court spokesperson. Tuesday was the first day same-sex marriages could be performed.
Among the people attending the ceremony at the HRC building were D.C. Council members David Catania (I-At Large), who wrote and took the lead role in advancing the same-sex marriage bill, and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), a long-time supporter of same-sex marriage rights. Both are gay.
The two were joined after the ceremony by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who stood alongside the newly married couples to congratulate them and talk to reporters. Fenty signed the marriage bill shortly after the City Council passed it 11-2 in December.
“It’s tough to represent a city,” he told the couples. “It’s tough to represent a community, and it’s also tough to represent a nation. But the six of you today do that. Whether you realize it or not, whether you like it or not, you represent what this entire country is about.”
Fenty added, “As mayor of the District of Columbia, I cannot be more excited or proud to be here. I think this is not only a great step forward for all six of you, but…it is also great step forward for equality in general, for our great city…and for our great country.”
Catania, who called the ceremonies “incredibly moving,” drew nods of approval when he compared them in at least one respect to most other weddings.
“Council member Graham said we all cry at weddings and that was especially true today,” Catania said. “This is one of the most profoundly rewarding experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of being a part of.”
Catania and Graham said they never thought they would see same-sex marriage happen in their lifetime.
“There’s been no event in my life that has been more uplifting, more positive, more affirming than these three marriages this morning,” Graham said, “because it says so much about human dignity, about valuing each other or who they are and nothing less — nothing short of that.”
Also attending the ceremony and participating in the press conference was veteran D.C. gay activist Frank Kameny, who is credited with founding the city’s LGBT rights movement.
“This represents a major victory, one that has been in the making for 35 to 40 years, although back then we never remotely thought it would really come to pass,” Kameny said. “And hopefully it sets the tone for other victories. This is not the last that we need. There are others that are in the making, and we’re going to have to continue working on those and hopefully with equal success in the very near future.”
The ceremonies at the HRC building were sponsored by the Campaign for All D.C. Families and D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, two groups that were part of a coalition of gay and straight organizations that lobbied for the same-sex marriage bill.
Rick Imirowicz, 43, and Terrance Heath, 41, both District residents and a couple for ten years, were married Tuesday afternoon at All Souls Unitarian Church in Northwest D.C. Rev. Robert Hardies, pastor of the church, performed the ceremony.