History was made at 11:06 a.m. today at San Francisco City Hall when Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon took their wedding vows, becoming the first same-sex couple to be officially married in the United States.
By mid-afternoon, at least 15 same-sex weddings were performed and officials issued about a dozen more marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
Mabel Teng, the city's assessor-recorder, officiated over the first ceremony, inserting the phrase "spouse for life'' in place of "husband'' and "wife.''
"This is a very significant day for Del and Phyllis and for all of us witnessing this historic ceremony,'' Teng said before the couple recited their vows.
About 20 people witnessed the ceremony; many of them were moved to tears as the couple, who have been together for five decades, were wed.
The wedding came just two days after Mayor Gavin Newsom announced that he wanted San Francisco to take the lead in bestowing the same marriage rights to gays and lesbians as are awarded to straight couples, saying he is duty-bound to fight discrimination.
The landmark wedding, the first of many expected to be held at City Hall today, is sure to set off a legal challenge. City officials, in fact, rushed to issue the first marriage licenses to same-sex couples as quickly as possible for fear that opponents would seek a court injunction to stop them. Officials alerted only a handful of people that they were ready to act, wanting to keep it secret until the papers were signed and the "I do's" were spoken.
The decision was made late Wednesday night, and the clerk's office spent this morning amending the marriage license documents to reflect the change.
In place of "bride'' and "groom'' on the application were the words "1st applicant'' and "2nd applicant.''
After Martin, 83, and the 79-year-old Lyon were declared spouses for life, three other couples were lined up, awaiting their turn to take marriage vows.
Lyon, who will celebrate her 51st anniversary with Martin on Saturday, Valentine's Day, got a call Wednesday from Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, asking her if she'd be willing to take the plunge.
"I asked Del and she said OK," Lyon said. The San Francisco couple isn't new to being firsts. They have been at the forefront of the lesbian rights movement for decades.
"We didn't really think about this before, because we didn't think it was possible," Lyon said. "Now, so much has changed ... and everyone's working so hard to get gay marriage. It didn't seem right to say 'no.’"