Image: Protesters demonstrate against same-sex marriage
Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
Protesters demonstrate against same-sex marriage after unions became legal in the nation's capital.
updated 3/3/2010 5:55:59 PM ET 2010-03-03T22:55:59

One gay couple met on a Star Trek fan site, another dancing at a country western bar. Some have been together for months, others more than a decade.

About 150 pairs had something in common Wednesday, though, applying for wedding licenses on the first day same-sex unions became legal in the nation's capital.

The mood at the marriage bureau inside the city's Moultrie Courthouse was celebratory. Couples clapped, called out "Congratulations" and cupcakes and tulips were handed out. One family said it was important to show up the first day.

"It sets a good example," said district resident Christine Burkhart, who married Denise Gavin in a ceremony in 2006 in Washington.

The pair stood in line rocking their twin 4-month-olds, Milo and Josephine. "We'll be able to tell them that we all went together as a family."

The District of Columbia became the sixth place in the country permitting same-sex unions. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont also issue same-sex couples licenses.

Pick up licenses on Tuesday
Because of a processing period of three business days for all marriage license applicants, the couples won't be able to marry until Tuesday. That's the day they can pick up their licenses.

Sinjoyla Townsend, 41, and her partner of 12 years, Angelisa Young, 47, claimed the first spot in line just after 6 a.m. The district residents are already domestic partners but wanted to marry.

"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 who applied for licenses were from the district and nearby Virginia and Maryland, which said last week it will recognize same-sex unions performed elsewhere until the state Legislature or courts decide otherwise. One couple got on the road at 4 a.m. to drive from West Virginia and another couple was from Delaware. Some said it was symbolic to get married in the nation's capital, but for many D.C. is simply home.

A number of couples worried that the licenses would be short-lived as in California, where same-sex marriage was legal for a time but later overturned by voters.

Video: Courts allow D.C. same-sex marriage In D.C., the marriage bureau prepared for the day by making license applications 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. Couples got numbers when they arrived to help with crowd control.

10 applications per day
Normally, the bureau handles 10 applications a day. On Wednesday it was 151, though at least four heterosexual couples did show up, including Matt Lawson, 30, and Christine Vander Molen, 27.

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 have so far been unsuccessful in challenging the law, but they are still attempting to overturn the bill in court. That worries Eric North and Tom French, both 45, who were 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.

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Video: Same-sex marriage now legal in D.C.

  1. Closed captioning of: Same-sex marriage now legal in D.C.

    >> to register to get our license.

    >> it's an historic day. we're really proud to be part of it and delighted. we've been together for 17 years. and we've been denied a lot of benefits and a lot of -- and had to pay a lot of taxes.

    >> nbc's pete williams joins us live. these couples won't be able to marry until later in the month, march 19 .

    >> next week. next tuesday there's a rule after you apply for marriage license it takes three business days to get you the license. that's the earliest they can actually formally legally get married. this happened after several steps. the d.c. city council passed this. since we're the district of columbia , congress has the opportunity to take it away. it sits in congress 30 days . congress failed to do anything. then there was a legal challenge that went clear to the supreme court . yesterday chief justice roberts said the supreme court would not get involved in what is essentially a local matter. he also pointed out there is a group of people in the district to oppose this, who are trying to get an initiative on the ballot to overturn the decision of the city council , to in essence pass a new city ordinance saying marriage can only be between a man and a woman. for now it is the law here. so the first marriages could come next tuesday making washington, d.c. the sixth place in the u.s. where gay couples can get married, in addition to massachusetts, connecticut, vermont, new hampshire and iowa. by the way, tamron, which is the last of the places where there are active efforts to get the law changed. there are no pending matters in state legislators considered close. you may recall new york turned it down earlier this year. no pending state court cases. for a while this is it. a while before we see initiatives to increase the numbers beyond district of columbia and those five states.

    >> thank you, pete.

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