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Islanders embrace historic moment for marriage equality
Last Wednesday evening, hundreds of people lined up downtown at the King County Administration building, forming a long line that twisted around roped barriers and spilled out onto the sidewalk. As the stroke of midnight neared, the crowd counted down, New Year’s Eve-style, then erupted into cheers as the doors to the county’s Recorder’s Office were opened.
It was in that office shortly after midnight that Islanders Brendon Taga and Jesse Page became the second same-sex couple in King County to be issued a marriage license, signed by county Executive Dow Constantine himself. Three days later, they were one of the first same-sex couples in the state to be married, saying their vows in a small ceremony at the King County Courthouse shortly after midnight Sunday.
“It was really exciting,” said Taga of the midnight licensing ceremony. “It think that it was a very special moment for everyone in the room.”
The two men — young, dapper and clad in suits — were a stark contrast to the first couple in line that evening: two white-haired women in sweaters and slacks who have been spotlighted in Seattle news coverage of gay marriage. But reached the following day, Taga and Page had what was likely a similar message as the women — gay rights activists Pete-e Petersen and Jane Abbott Lighty — and as the more than 300 other couples who received marriage licenses that night.
“We have a commitment to one another, and marriage equality has supported that commitment,” Taga said. “We were thrilled we could participate in that momentous occasion.”
As Taga and Page, selected as one of 10 couples to take part in the special midnight ceremony, were receiving their license and smiling for the herd of media that showed for the event, Islanders Theresa Hampl and Sue Neuman waited outside in the cold.
Hampl and Neuman arrived downtown at 10 p.m. that evening and finally received their license — also signed by Constantine — at about 1:30 a.m. Hampl, still beaming with excitement the next day, said the two of them were cold but the wait was worth it.
“We wanted to be part of the history-making event,” she said. “It was important to be counted.”
As the women waited, Hampl said, they swapped stories with other couples around them. Strangers came by bearing coffee and flowers, and carolers sang songs, including the 1964 hit “Chapel of Love.”
“It was really fun and festive, and we were surrounded by people who were so happy to be there,” Hampl said.
The couple already considered themselves married — they had an unofficial ceremony a dozen years ago. But on Sunday, after the mandatory three-day waiting period, they were legally wed in a ceremony at Sound Food. Amazingly, it happened to be their 12th wedding anniversary.
“It worked out well. It was meant to be,” Hampl said. “We don’t even have to change our anniversary.”
Islander Greg Nolan expressed similar excitement about his own marriage last weekend, but joked that he and his partner of 15 years, Bill Trombley, were too old to attend the midnight event in Seattle. The two of them got their license in Port Orchard early Thursday morning.
“It was a snap,” he said later that day. “They were just as sweet as they could be.”
The two men, who have friends in the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, were invited by the tribe to be one of 20 couples to take part in a special ceremony Sunday at the Heronswood Gardens in Kingston. The gardens were founded by a gay couple decades ago and are now owned by the tribe, which was a large supporter of Referendum 74, the ballot measure that upheld the legalization of gay marriage this fall.
On Thursday Nolan said he wasn’t nervous for his wedding, just excited as he made quick plans for the ceremony. The men bought brand-new suits for the occasion and ordered boutonnieres from Blooms & Things and a wedding cake from Snapdragon.
“Neither one of us thought we would see this in our lifetime,” Nolan said. “We’re still utterly astounded that it’s come about.”
All three couples said they would hold larger celebrations down the road to include friends and family, but after years of waiting, they simply wanted to make their marriages official.
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” Nolan said. “We both are. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Other Vashon couples will bypass the wedding process altogether. Couples married in Canada or in another state recognizing same-sex marriage had their marriages automatically recognized in Washington beginning Dec. 6. And domestic partnerships will automatically become marriages in 2014.
Heather Rhoads-Weaver, who was married in Canada in 2003, said she and her wife Barb would still like to hold a vow renewal to recognize the legalization of their marriage, and she thought other couples who were married elsewhere would do the same.
“A bunch of us are looking to get some alterations done to our old wedding dresses,” she said with a laugh.
Emma Amiad, who married her longtime partner Susan White in Canada and California, said she hoped to hold a group ceremony for those who have already had a marriage, perhaps this spring.
“We just think it would be fun to do it as a group, particularly those who have been together for ages; it just might be fun,” she said.
As Taga begins planning for a larger wedding ceremony in about a year, he says that for now he’s looking forward to no longer having to carry the state-issued card that said he and Page, a lawyer and a bank manager who have been together five years, were in a state-registered domestic partnership. The two of them carried their cards at all times, should they ever have to prove their relationship, he said.
“Having to carry the card around was a nagging reminder of how separate and distinct we were,” he said.
But they won’t throw away the cards quite yet. The two plan to adopt in the next few years, and Taga says they’ll one day show the cards to their children, in addition to telling them about the historic night they received their marriage license.
“I want to be able to share with our children the journey we’ve taken and where we’ve come from,” he said.