By the time the Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder's office opened at 8 o'clock Monday morning, a dozen anxious gay and lesbian couples were waiting outside to apply for marriage licenses.
Standing at the front of that line since 6:45 a.m. were Concord residents Trish Maddan and Susan Gore, partners for 15 years, who were so eager to seize the first opportunity since Prop 8 was struck down to make their union official that they brought along their own minister, musical accompanist and guests for a sidewalk ceremony.
"It was important to be first," Maddan said. "We've been waiting for this for a long time."
Maddan, a food broker, and Gore, a mental health worker, met years ago while doing volunteer social work and quickly formed a bond. They formalized their relationship last year with an exchange of vows in a commitment service, but they longed for the day they could make their marriage legal.
Their hopes soared when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to rule on Prop 8, California's same-sex marriage ban. Maddan said they began scanning the Internet for court reports and subscribed to links that delivered breaking news.
"It was a roller-coaster ride," Gore said. "It's going to happen, it's not going to happen."
"It was hard to be optimistic sometimes," Maddan said.
When a favorable ruling came down, however, the couple was prepared.
"I did their commitment ceremony," said Rev. Leslie Takahashi Morris, of Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek. "We had an agreement that as soon as it was legal, we were going to be here for a license."
The service took place only a few feet outside the front door. It was the same sidewalk location where Takahashi Morris and congregation members had demonstrated for marriage equality on each of the last five Valentine's Days. Jo Gelinas, guitar in hand, provided musical accompaniment; friends Carol Kane and Margo Dutton snapped pictures and gave moral support; Takahashi Morris performed the service while standing alongside a vase of flowers and a sign that read: "Marry Who You Love."
When she uttered her first words -- "We are celebrating the love between Susan and Trish" -- smiles creased both of the participants' faces. Then she invited them to share the vows they each had written before exchanging rings.
Gore promised "to listen to your words and your heart's intent, to be there as you celebrate your achievements or reconcile your disappointments."
Maddan, who described Gore as her "best friend and soulmate for life," nearly choked up as she said, "You've brought me a happiness I'd never known before." It was a moment of tenderness that hung in the morning air until she punctuated her sentiments with a wide grin: "You've had 15 years to run away. Now you're stuck with me."
Then the long-awaited moment finally arrived. As curious passersby looked on and the minister congratulated the newlyweds, their friends cheered and the couple embraced.
They weren't certain how they'd spend the rest of the day or whether they'd honeymoon. They hadn't decided if they would hyphenate their last names. The only thing they were sure of is why they wanted to marry.
"We did it to honor our relationship," said Gore, "and to feel we're as important as everyone else."
"Yeah," said Maddan, "we're real."
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.