Gay couples rush to get married

SAN FRANCISCO - County clerk offices across California opened for their first full day of same-sex marriages Tuesday, with hundreds of happy gay and lesbian couples ready to take the plunge in what in some cities was a party atmosphere.

A gay men's chorus was singing on the front steps of San Francisco City Hall, brightened up by rainbow flags and supporters handing out cupcakes to happy couples.

Helen Zia and Lia Shigemura sang 'The Chapel of Love' as they walked to the city attorney's office to get married. The couple, clad in beige jackets and slacks, exchanged vows with Zia's mother by their side.

'This is the most meaningful day of my life. I've always wanted to get married,' Shigemura said. 'I just never thought it'd be possible.'

From San Diego to Eureka, couples readied their formal wear, local licensing clerks expanded their staffs and conservative groups warned of a backlash as the nation's most populous state joined Massachusetts in sanctioning gay unions.

Some couples were from out of state. Unlike Massachusetts, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2004, California has no residency requirement for marriage licenses.

The May 15 California Supreme Court ruling that overturned the state's bans on same-sex marriage became final at 5:01 p.m. Monday, and clerks in at least five counties extended their hours to mark the occasion.

Already, dozens of same-sex couples have seized the opportunity to make their relationships official in the eyes of the law.

In West Hollywood, more than 100 people, wearing everything from T-shirts to tuxedos, were in line Tuesday morning in front of an auditorium that was turned into a licensing center in the city's main park. Six white cabanas with chandeliers and silk flowers were ready for weddings.

Among those getting marriage licenses were actor and gay rights activist George Takei and his longtime partner, Brad Altman; they are planning a September wedding.

'Today we are all here to give flesh and blood reality to that ruling. We are going to make history,' said Takei, who played Sulu in the 'Star Trek' television series and movies. 'Congratulations to all of us and may equality live long and prosper.'

Every county was required to start issuing new gender-neutral marriage licenses Tuesday with spaces for 'Party A' and 'Party B' where 'bride' and 'groom' used to be.

'Am I Party A or Party B?' Contra Costa County Clerk Stephen Weir jokingly asked his partner of 18 years, John Hemm.

They were the first to marry at Weir's office Tuesday morning. Outside, three opponents of gay marriage from the Westboro Baptist Church picketed, carrying signs with sayings such as 'God is your enemy.'

Members of the sect are most often seen at military funerals in demonstrations claiming U.S. combat deaths are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality.