SEATTLE -- Wedding bliss was in the air across the state Sunday as hundreds of ceremonies took place on the day same-sex marriage became legal in Washington.
Emily and Sarah Cofer were among the first to marry, pronounced "legally wed" at 12:04 a.m. by the aptly named Judge Mary Yu at the King County Courthouse here. Sarah, 31, and Emily, 32, are third-grade teachers in Arlington, 45 miles north of Seattle. The couple had a commitment ceremony in 2010, and Emily took Sarah's last name. Nine months ago, their daughter, Carter, was born, and Sarah is now on maternity leave.
"We never thought we'd be a part of history," Sarah said.
Washington, Maine and Maryland became the first states to pass same-sex marriage by popular vote on Nov. 6, joining six other states -- New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont -- and the District of Columbia that had already enacted laws or issued court rulings permitting same-sex marriage.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed certified the election results of Referendum 74 on Wednesday, and the law took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday. Hundreds of marriage licenses were issued across the state within hours. Because Washington state has a three-day waiting period, Sunday at 12:01 a.m. was the first opportunity for couples to wed.
At Seattle City Hall, artists filled the Grand Lobby with flowers and displays Sunday to serve as a backdrop for the 150 couples scheduled to be married there.
The building's outdoor plaza was a makeshift celebration point for newlyweds emerging from City Hall. As each wedding ended, the couple was escorted to the grand outdoor stairway, strewn with rose petals, that leads to the street. An accordion player serenaded them with the wedding march, an announcer introduced them to a cheering crowd.
Elsewhere, a joint wedding for about 50 couples was in the works at Seattle's First Baptist Church. And a double wedding was scheduled for the annual holiday concert of the Seattle Men's Chorus at Seattle Symphony Hall. Two couples who are longtime volunteers with the Men's Chorus and the Seattle Women's Chorus, Jane Abbott Lighty and Pete-e Petersen, and Neil Hoyt and Donald Glenn Jenny, will be wed in the middle the chorus' annual concert. Lighty and Petersen, a couple for 35 years, on Thursday were the first same-sex couple to receive a state marriage license.
Not everyone was thrilled by the new law. Andy Pugno, general council for ProtectMarriage.com, an organization that opposes same-sex marriage in California, said the focus should be on "the role of marriage in society as an institution" that serves social purposes, such as building families and protecting children.
Pugno said he believes there will be "a small number of states that embrace a redefinition of marriage, but the vast majority of states will stick with traditional marriages."
Referendum 74 had asked voters to either approve or reject the state law legalizing same-sex marriage that legislators passed early this year. That law was signed by Gregoire in February but was put on hold pending the outcome of the election. Nearly 54% of voters approved the measure.
The law doesn't require religious organizations or churches to perform marriages, and it doesn't subject churches to penalties if they don't marry gay or lesbian couples.
Married same-sex couples will still be denied access to federal pensions, health insurance and other government benefits available to heterosexual couples because the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, bars federal recognition of gay unions.
Couples in Maryland were able to pick up marriage licenses Thursday, though in Maryland the licenses don't take effect until Jan. 1. Maine's law takes effect on Dec. 29 and the state has no waiting period, so couples can start marrying just after midnight.
Contributing: The Associated Press
Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY