Every Valentine’s Day, Sacramento County Chief Deputy Clerk Recorder Donna Allred has had to turn away same-sex couples who gather to get married on the national day of love. But this Friday, for the first time in California history, she got to say yes.
Friday marked the first Valentine’s Day since the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay on same-sex marriage on June 28. Local organizers from Marriage Equality USA celebrated in both Sacramento and Yolo counties as same-sex couples attained legal Valentine’s Day marriages with huge smiles.
Valentine’s Day is historically the busiest wedding day of the year for the Sacramento County recorder, but Allred said this particular holiday was more packed than usual. By noon, more than 40 couples had checked in for ceremonies and licenses. Marriages began at 8 a.m. and continued until 8 p.m. Marriage ceremonies take about 10 minutes and cost $36, in addition to the $83 marriage license fee.
Among the throng of excited couples and onlookers, Mary and Lisa Sargent-Lyle stood out in shimmering red and black gowns. Crowds parted as they made their way from the ceremony room, where they said their vows, into a waiting room decked with balloons and streamers.
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“Valentine’s Day seemed appropriate,” said Lisa, who picked Mary up from Sacramento International Airport at 9:40 a.m. Friday morning to get her to the ceremony. Mary works as an analyst in Austin, Texas. She met Lisa, a Stockton resident, on an online dating site two months ago.
“When you know, you know,” said Lisa. “I’m just really thankful. I couldn’t be happier.”
Friday was also a huge day for gay-rights advocates. A federal judge in Virginia on Thursday ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. With more than a dozen lawsuits challenging state bans nationwide, advocates say the wheels are turning for same-sex marriage rights.
“Every Valentine’s Day before today, I would wake up and turn on the radio and burst out crying,” said Shelley Bailes of the Marriage Equality USA Regional Organizing Committee. “This year is different. This year it’s wonderful. We’re so far ahead, I feel like we’ve already crossed the finish line.”
Bailes and her wife, Ellen Pontac, also part of the Sacramento advocacy organization, brought cake and decorations to Yolo County on Friday morning to celebrate Clerk Recorder Freddie Oakley, who Pontac said has been hugely supportive of same-sex couples. Oakley conducted the ceremony for Bailes and Pontac when same-sex marriage was legalized in June 2008, before Proposition 8 banned it months later.
Organizers also brought a cake to the Sacramento recorder’s office to thank Allred.
“They come in every year and ask the same questions,” Allred said. “They’ve been coming in for years and years, and this year they don’t have to ask the question.”
Pontac and Bailes were also paying tribute to Freedom to Marry Day on Feb. 12, which marks the day 10 years ago that Gavin Newsom, then mayor of San Francisco, ordered clerks to begin distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The two were initially married that day in 2004, but their marriage, along with thousands of others, was voided by the state Supreme Court a month later.
Even with the state’s tumultuous legal history on same-sex marriage, Pontac said she is confident about this year and the future.
“It’s different now,” she said, “When we did it, you just went ahead because you didn’t know what was going to happen. Now we have friends who are spending a year and half on weddings and taking their time.”