Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sinjoyla Townsend was at a courthouse and in tears Wednesday morning. And she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Ms. Townsend and her partner, Angelisa Young, were the first same-sex couple in line to apply for a marriage license at the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse.

The tears rolled down Ms. Townsend’s face as the resident of the District of Columbia basked in silent joy, overcome by the emotion of the day.

“No matter where I go in the world now, when I say I’m married, somebody else will truly understand exactly what I’m talking about,” Ms. Young said. “It’s not gay, it’s not lesbian, it’s just a human right of being able to share love and enjoy each other. That’s basically all we’re asking for and we got it today.”

Ms. Young, 47, and Ms. Townsend, 41, joined dozens of other couples at the courthouse - on the first day gay marriages were allowed in the District. Same-sex couples could apply for marriage licenses and then wait the standard processing period of three full business days for the licenses to be issued. Tuesday will be the first day same-sex marriage ceremonies can be performed and recognized.

Ms. Young and Ms. Townsend also will be among the first to marry. They will wed at a nondenominational service at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters.

Some of the same-sex couples at the courthouse Wednesday - at least 90 had arrived before noon - said they already had married informally but were glad for the opportunity to get the government’s seal of approval.

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Terrance Heath and Richard Imirowicz, who met online and now live in a Maryland suburb, said they had exchanged rings and vows while vacationing on a Hawaiian beach.

“Our parents are married, our brothers and sisters are married, and now we’ll join our family in being married, too,” Mr. Imirowicz said.

This day was special for the couple because “it means we’ve solidified even more the commitment that we’ve had for 10 years,” Mr. Heath said. “It’s just a wonderful day for our family and for the other families here and for the community. Because being committed to our family means belonging to our community and making it a better place.”

The couple have two children, and Mr. Heath said he will finally able to give them “a home with two loving, committed parents who are married to each other.”

Cuc Vu and Gwen Migita, residents of the District, spoke about the support of the couples inside the courtroom. They said others cheered them on as they exited the room where they submitted their applications.

“The idea of marriage wasn’t something that was a part of our planning for the future because that wasn’t available to us for many, many years,” Ms. Vu said. “Gwen proposed to me last fall and it just so happened that the laws in the District have changed and we’re taking advantage of it.”

The two will wed on Labor Day weekend.

As couples went inside to apply, supporters stayed outside to cheer. But not all the action in the courthouse and outside was celebratory.

The Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the Christian outreach group Faith and Action, read passages from Genesis on the union of male and female “in one flesh.” At one point, he knelt on the concrete outside the courthouse and recited the Lord’s Prayer.

He said his reason for going to the courthouse was “to speak the truth about love and marriage.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a man loving a man, or a woman loving a woman,” Mr. Schenck said. “In fact, Christian moral teaching requires that. But there are boundaries around how we love different persons.”

Mr. Schenck called the legalization of gay marriage a “cynical, political exercise.”

He said politicians want to capture votes and political support and, by doing so, they are “cheapening one of the most wonderful elements of human society, and that is the unique bond in marriage between a male and a female.”

Rabbi Arthur Blecher, however, said he came to congratulate the couples as a member of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, a group that supports the District’s new Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality law. He cheered as the gay couples walked out of the courthouse.

“I think religious tradition supports justice and equality for all people,” Mr. Blecher said. “The time has come for all loving couples to enjoy the benefits and the support of their communities.”

Also outside the courthouse were spectators with more worldly motives: wedding vendors.

Alexis Lindsay and Serena Veevers of the Hyatt Regency Washington arrived at the courthouse with roses, saying they wanted to congratulate the couples. But the roses came attached to promotional materials encouraging couples to book their ceremonies or receptions with the hotel. Same-sex couples could receive, among other perks, 50 percent off food and drinks for events held before March 14 and “a complimentary suite for their honeymoon night.”

“We thought some of the couples getting married waited so long for this opportunity that they just want to take advantage of it immediately,” Ms. Veevers said.

Penny Karas, owner of Hello Cupcake, came to the courthouse at the invitation of D.C. Council member David Catania, at-large independent, to dispense a smaller favor at his expense - “congratulatory cupcakes.” Each box included two cupcakes - one vanilla and one chocolate.

To Catania staffer Susan Mottet, though, these were no ordinary snacks or desserts.

When asked whether they were “wedding cakes,” she smiled and said, “mini wedding cakes.”

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