'We finally feel equal': Maine's first married gay couple ties the knot at Portland City Hall
PORTLAND — The first gay couple to be married in the state of Maine took their vows in a short ceremony in the city clerk’s office at approximately 12:25 a.m. Saturday.
“We finally feel equal and happy to live in Maine,” said Steven Bridges, who married Michael Snell less than a half-hour after same sex marriages became legal in the state on Dec. 29.
By 2 a.m., the line had emptied out after 15 gay and lesbian couples had acquired marriage licenses, with six of those couples exchanging vows on the spot. Another couple was married on City Hall’s front steps and then went back inside to return their license.
The hand-holding grooms sported purple carnation corsages, matching T-shirts printed with the phrase “love is love,” and grins so big they hardly seemed to fit on their faces.
Snell and Bridges, both of Portland, have been together for nine years and had a commitment ceremony six years ago, but late Friday night they were more than ready to make their love legal. The couple was the first in line to be married beginning at 12:01 a.m. Saturday in one of the state’s first legal same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Maine voters approved a referendum on Election Day legalizing same-sex marriages in the state for the first time.
“My heart’s pumping. Total butterflies in my stomach,” Bridges said. “We couldn’t stop smiling the whole day.”
Katie Snell, 27, of Lexington, Mass., Snell’s daughter, said that the couple weren’t the only delighted members of the family.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she said of the imminent nuptials. “I’m absolutely ecstatic. I’m so happy for this. I couldn’t be happier.”
Chris Horne, vital records clerk for the city of Portland, officiated the brief ceremony, in which each man told her, “I do” in the traditional wedding format – even if the setting lacked tradition. A multitude of news cameras surrounded the couple as they entered the clerk’s office at 12:01 a.m., filled out paperwork and waited for that paperwork to be entered into the city computer system.
Bridges said being the first same sex couple to marry in Maine was unexpected, but “made it special.”
Smiles, flowers and appreciation for the 53 percent of Maine voters who decided in favor of the same-sex marriage law on Election Day seemed to rule the night at City Hall, where the air was filled with the sounds of a live jazz trio and a buzz of excitement.
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan arrived at City Hall just before the doors opened to the public at 10 p.m. He said he hoped he could sign on as a witness for one of the first same-sex couples to marry.
“It’s a historic event,” he said. “It’s something people have waited for for years. People have been discriminated against for years, so we wanted to make sure that we’d be able to accommodate people as soon as possible” by opening the city clerk’s office at midnight.
“Portland has always been a leader in opposing discrimination,” Brennan said.
Portland was one of the state’s municipalities that opened offices early so that eager couples could go ahead and tie the knot. In addition to having a clerk at hand to provide marriage licenses, the city made a notary public available to make wedding vows official. Maine no longer has a waiting period before couples can get married.
Once the doors opened at 10 p.m., the dozen or so couples who waited outside filed up the curving marble staircase to wait some more. Roberta Batt, 71, and Mary Donaldson, 63, pinned corsages on each other before heading down the hall to wait for their marriage license. The antique dealers have been together for more than 30 years.
“It feels really great,” Donaldson said. “I’d like to thank all the people in Maine who voted to make this happen. It’s been a long struggle.”
Kristina Skillin, her friend Chelsea Doyle and boyfriend Eric Sawyer were on hand at a table handing out carnation boutonnieres on the second floor of City Hall. Skillin said they started making the boutonnieres on Wednesday and finished with between 400 and 450.
“I really wanted to do something,” Skillin, who bought the flowers from her father’s business, Skillins Greenhouses, told the BDN on Friday night. “I really wanted to hug everyone.”
Sawyer, a notary public, was offering his services performing marriage ceremonies to any couple who was interested Saturday morning.
“It would be such an honor to be able to do that for a couple,” he said.
Not everyone was as enthusiastic.
As a line formed outside the building between 9:30 and 10 p.m., one man stood across the plaza singing gospel songs and calling out religious scriptures in protest of the occasion. The man, who refused to give his name, called same-sex marriages “abominations” and “wickedness,” and said that by allowing them, Mainers are “turning our backs on God’s commandments.”
Inside city hall, the Bangor Daily News staff took photos of couples who wished to share them on the newspaper’s website.
Steven Jones and Jamous Lizotte, both of Portland, wore tuxedos and arranged laurel wreaths on their heads while waiting for midnight, when they could get married.
“After nine years of being together, we decided to go all the way,” Lizotte, formerly of St. Agatha, said.
When he learned that the first day that same-sex marriage would be legal fell on his 35th birthday, it seemed like a sign.
“It’s a finale,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”
In Falmouth, the town clerk’s office opened at midnight for couples who had made an appointment ahead of time. Two wedding parties apparently entered town hall for marriage licenses, but the press and public were not allowed in the building to talk to the couples.
William Hall of The Forecaster contributed to this story.