Hurrying to the Altar on D.C.'s First Day of Gay Marriage

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Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty

Same-sex couple Rocky Galloway, left, and Reggie Stanley celebrate after applying for a marriage license at the D.C. Superior Court in Washington

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The Power of the Paper
Recognition was the buzzword outside and in the drab hallways where couples, eager to get their applications completed, snaked toward the Marriage Office. Many used that word in a strictly legal sense, explaining that they wanted to be married for the sake of their children's inheritance rights, taxes or hospital visits.

"There are so many basic rights that everyone should be entitled to," said Jackie Michaud, who runs a business with her spouse-to-be. "This is not some huge movement. This is asking for basic protection. This is asking for a safety net that everyone else is entitled to."

Others said they desired a feeling of acknowledgment, and there was plenty to go around in the courthouse that day. Each licensed couple was applauded and cheered by those waiting in the molasses-like line — often while getting a congratulatory cupcake (courtesy of councilman David Catania, the openly gay sponsor of the initiative).

"Though in some ways it's a piece of paper, [it's really] the recognition of a family," said father-of-two Reggie Stanley, who got the second license with Rocky Galloway. "We're proud of the responsibility it means to one another and to our community."

John Paul and Darren Vance, a couple of 14 years and parents to a 4-year-old son, were anxious to experience the linguistic simplicity that comes with marriage, banishing the vague, oft-awkward partner from their vocabulary and replacing it with the indisputable, obvious husband.

"I didn't want [our son] to grow up thinking that our family was wrong or bad," said Vance, explaining that he hopes the nomenclature will help his son feel more accepted and make critics see how typical their family unit is. "I wish the opposition could spend one day at our house, where the dog pees on the carpet and we're worried about taxes."

Another couple felt that adopting heterosexual titles would only serve to exacerbate tensions between the gay community and critics of same-sex marriage. "We're not aping the hets," said Thomas Frank Toth, a decorated 86-year-old World War II veteran who recounted stories of being raided at underground gay clubs in the '60s. Toth said he's looking to gay writers to come up with a new vocabulary for homosexual marriage, because while the institution — and its foundation of love — might be shared, he believes this new, hard-won embrace of it will remain fundamentally different.

By the end of the day, 151 marriage licenses had been processed (of which almost all were for same-sex couples). "It's like a weight has been lifted off everyone," Michaud said. "You look at people's faces, and there's genuine happiness."

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