Saturday morning was one of firsts for a community, a church, a minister and a couple.
Dawn Student married Sharon Hale in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis. They were escorted, wearing semi-casual clothing, into the sanctuary to the tune of “Chapel of Love” by The Dixie Cups, with over 150 guests singing and clapping along.
Five days before walking down the aisle, the couple received their marriage license. They were legally wed June 16 at 6:20 p.m., making theirs one of the first same-sex marriages in the state. The Yolo county courthouse was one of four in California to choose to grant the new marriage licenses Monday.
“It was amazing, warm and wonderful,” Student said. “People threw flowers at us, and [county clerk-recorder] Freddie Oakley had cake for us when we walked out.“
The couple said they did not encounter any protestors or negativity of any kind.
Although the wedding was the first legal declaration of their commitment, the couple first made their promises and vows to each other much earlier.
Hale and Student met in 1995 through their church and started dating in 2000. After a while they were living together, sharing their lives and feeling as married as they could without recognition from the state. The past month has changed that.
“We never did a commitment ceremony, but we did the domestic partnership thing,” Student said. “We just filled out the paperwork at our kitchen table with our three kids.“
Saturday’s ceremony was officiated by minister Beth O’Shaughnessy Banks, who wore a rainbow colored stole and a smile.
Banks spoke to the couple and the congregation of guests with joy and honor. As she addressed those in attendance, many wearing tie-dye and the “man of honor” wearing a suit, Banks received many whoops and hollers in response to her words.
“The day cannot come soon enough when this can happen in all 50 states,” Banks said to applause and cheers.
The end of the ceremony brought with it the loudest response. Before instructing the couple to kiss, Banks said to them, “You are legally married.” The following hoots, hollers and applause echoed for nearly half a minute.
Other congregation members said they were just as happy, such as Carlena Wike, a member of the congregation for five years.
“This is a really exciting day,” Wike said. “Not only for the couple, but for [the minister] Beth. She said that as long as she couldn’t legally wed a same-sex couple, she wouldn’t do a wedding for anyone.“
Banks refused to wed any couple if every couple wasn’t afforded the right. So the ability to officiate Hale and Student’s wedding hit home on many levels for the congregation.
After the wedding Hale took a seat and a break, fanning herself in the heavy Davis heat. A young woman, the eldest of the couple’s three children, planted a kiss on the glowing bride’s cheek and whispered congratulations in her ear.
Hale smiled, and then it hit her, “I’m legally your step-mom now!” she shouted, startling herself and her daughter. “I’ve been calling you that for years, and now it’s the legal truth!”
None of it would have been possible without the California Supreme Court’s decision in May to allow same-sex couples to get married.
“We were waiting for the court to make a decision, and on the day it happened I was at work,” said Student, a first grade teacher at Camellia Basic Elementary School in Sacramento. “I took my lunch break and Sharon called and proposed over the phone.” Student said, beaming. “Isn’t that just great?”
Her wife stood next to her as they playfully nudged each other, shoulders bumping.
“A few hours later Sharon got a phone call from the minister and they set the date,” she said.
The couple had 30 days to plan the wedding. The task was a big undertaking, but family and friends pitched in.
“Everything seemed to fit, even in planning it,” said Hale.
For the couple, the natural place to hold the ceremony and reception was their home church.
“We have a couple of master gardeners [in the congregation], so they went out and got all the flowers from local gardens,” she said.
A member of the church made the corsages worn by family members and the wedding party, young members helped with the behind-the-scenes work of set-up and takedown and friends and church members conducted the catering services.
As she sat with her piece of wedding cake, her wife somewhere in the background, a friend asked Hale how it felt to be married.
“I have felt married for so long,” Hale responds. “This will be,” she said, lifting her fork into the air, “the icing on the cake.“
ALI EDNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.