SAN FRANCISCO - Dozens of gay couples were married Monday night after California became the second state to allow same-sex nuptials, offering a preview of the euphoria and anger to come as gay couples from across the nation head west to wed.
At least five county clerks around the state extended their hours to honor specific couples or to mark the historic occasion, and many couples exchanged vows on the spot. The May 15 California Supreme Court order overturning bans on same-sex marriage became final at 5:01 p.m.
"I never thought I'd see this," Michael Groark, 61, said at a San Francisco sports bar, watching on television as Mayor Gavin Newsom officiated the first same-sex wedding in the city.
The big rush to the altar was expected Tuesday, when most counties planned to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of couples nationwide are expected to seize the opportunity to make their unions official in the eyes of the law.
Newsom, who helped launch the series of lawsuits that led the court to strike down California's one-man-one-woman marriage laws, presided at the wedding of Del Martin, 87, and Phyllis Lyon, 83.
Newsom picked the couple for the only ceremony Monday in City Hall to recognize their 55-year relationship and their status as pioneers of the gay rights movement. More than 650 same-sex couples have made appointments to get marriage licenses in San Francisco before the end of the month.
Martin sat in her wheelchair during the brief ceremony in the mayor's office, which was open to a few elected officials, friends, relatives and reporters. After Newsom pronounced her and Lyon "spouses for life," the couple kissed, drawing huge applause.
As a printer churned out a license with spaces for "Party A" and "Party B" where "bride" and "groom" used to be, Newsom called officiating the wedding "this extraordinary and humbling gift."
When the pair emerged from the mayor's chamber, a crowd of well-wishers showered them with rose petals and ate complimentary wedding cake.
"When anyone is on the outside looking in, to be finally allowed in is a profound feeling," said Elizabeth Williams, 45, who plans to marry her partner of 16 years later this year.
The celebrations were tempered by the reality that in a few months, Californians will go to the ballot box to vote on an initiative that would overturn the high court ruling and once again ban gay marriage.
Groups that oppose same-sex marriage have pursued several legal avenues to stop the weddings, including asking the California Supreme Court to postpone its decision until after the November initiative. The high court denied that request.
On Monday, just hours before the ruling went into effect, a conservative legal group asked a Sacramento court to order the California agency that oversees marriages to stop issuing gender-neutral marriage licenses. A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday.
Three lawmakers and a small group of other same-sex opponents gathered outside the Capitol to criticize the Supreme Court decision. They urged voters to approve the ballot measure.
"This is an opportunity to take back a little bit of dignity ... for kids, for all of us in California," Republican Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa said. "It really disturbs me that the will of the people was overridden by four members of the Supreme Court."
Republican Assemblyman Bill Maze said heterosexual marriage was "God's way."
Opponents also gathered outside San Francisco City Hall holding signs with statements including "Jesus said go and sin no more" and "Homo Sex is Sin."
Despite the efforts, for many gay couples, Monday was the beginning of another so-called "Summer of Love."
"I'm tired of checking the single box," said Danielle Lemay, 34, who picked up a marriage license in Woodland with her partner, Angie Hinrichs. "I feared I'd be checking that my whole life."
In Sonoma County, Melanie Phoenix, 47, and Terry Robinson, 48, were first in line. Together for almost 26 years, they plan to wed in August.
"It's a historic occasion," Phoenix said. "I never believed it was really possible until Gavin Newsom took the first step in 2004."
In February 2004, Newsom challenged California's marriage laws by issuing licenses to same-sex couples. The state Supreme Court ultimately voided those unions, but two dozen couples sued. Those lawsuits led the same court last month to overturn California's ban on gay marriage.
Robin Tyler and Diane Olson, who were plaintiffs in the litigation, got married Monday in a Jewish ceremony in front of the Beverly Hills courthouse.
The couple wept and pressed their foreheads together, and onlookers whooped as the marriage was solemnized.
Rabbi Denise Eger saluted Olson and Tyler for "these many years of coming to this very place and standing on these courthouse steps year after year of being denied this right, this civil right."
A UCLA study issued last week estimated that half of California's more than 100,000 same-sex couples will get married over the next three years, and 68,000 more out-of-state couples will travel here to exchange vows.
Unlike Massachusetts, which legalized gay marriage in 2004, California has no residency requirement for marriage licenses, and that is expected to draw a great number of out-of-state couples. The turnout could also be boosted by New York state's recent announcement that it will recognize gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
Some of those out-of-state couples are likely to demand legal recognition in their home states, setting the stage for numerous court battles.
Derek Norman, 23, and Robert Blaudow, 39, of Memphis, Tenn., were in the Bay Area for a conference and decided to get married at the Alameda County clerk's office.
"We might wait a long time in Tennessee, so this is our chance," Blaudow said.