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All They Need Is Love

Gays flock to San Francisco and straights descend on Santa Ana for Valentine wedding licenses.

February 15, 2004|Stephanie Chavez and Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writers

Long lines formed on Valentine's Day at two historic government buildings, one in San Francisco, the other in Orange County. In both locations, couples exchanged the solemn vows of matrimony.

But for all the diverse political and personal reasons that drew hundreds of couples to same-sex marriages in Northern California and heterosexual weddings in the Southland, one sentiment bound the opinions of the newlyweds in both locales: love.

"As long as people love each other, it shouldn't matter whether they are the same sex," said Robert Manzo, 34, who drove to Santa Ana from Long Beach with his longtime partner, Anna Parker, 37, to get married. "It's a new era. The institute of marriage is still going to be the same ... What's important in marriage is love."

The passions of many of the 203 couples who crowded the hallways of the Old Orange Courthouse on Saturday were directed into each other's eyes -- not at the recent political and legal storm that has been swirling around the institution of marriage that they were about to enter. Most just came to get licenses stamped with the Feb. 14 date, but more than 60 were married.

Few seemed to care much about the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling this month that the state must allow gays the right to marry, or about last week's actions by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom that allowed same-sex marriages in his city.

"I just think that there are a lot of gays who want the very same things that we do," Manzo said, as his new wife handed the clerk a digital camera for their only wedding photo. "Life is too short to get involved in people's personal lives."

After seven years and the birth of a baby, Manzo and Parker decided to make their union official for 9-month-old Kyle, who they believe should have the legal protection that a marriage gives to a family.

"I remind you that love, loyalty and understanding are the foundations of a happy and enduring home," the clerk told them.

More than 300 miles away, Kathy Palmer-Lohan stood in line with her 2-year-old son, Bradley. Her partner, Laura Palmer-Lohan, is seven months pregnant with their second child. For virtually the same reasons as Manzo and Parker, they too decided that Saturday was the day to make their 13-year relationship legal -- or as legal as they could.

"We're having kids and it gives some formality to the relationship and the family structure," said Kathy, an executive at a Bay Area nonprofit agency.

Newsom is keeping the doors to his San Francisco clerk's office open throughout the weekend for same-sex marriages, basing his actions on the state Constitution's declaration that "a person may not be ... denied equal protection under the law."

Between Thursday and the end of the day Saturday, more than 1,000 gay couples had converged on Beaux Arts City Hall to get married. The court fight over whether their licenses will be legally binding documents is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Orange County Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly opened the doors of the courthouse in Santa Ana as a Valentine's Day gift to heterosexual couples.

Michelle Velea, 25, of Huntington Beach showed up in a pink dress, pink shawl and painted pink fingers and toes to marry Tri Cao, 21.

Although Velea's mother was advising her in the hallway to have two children, the bride said that such societal rules about marriage are passe. She said she is saying "I do" for love, not children. As for same-sex marriages, "Go for it," she said.

"They are going to spend their lives together anyway," Velea said. "I think, as a society, we should make what is happening on its own legal."

Even though David McDonald and John Peterson live in Orange, they had to stand in an hours-long line in San Francisco to get married because Daly, their own county clerk, would have turned them away at their local courthouse.

"I abide by the state law, which is real clear, and the state Constitution," Daly said, adding that he would deny a marriage license to any same-sex couple that showed up.

"Until the Supreme Court says otherwise," he said he would issue licenses only to man-and-woman couples.

His position was backed by groom Daniel Ranger, 24, of Pico Rivera, who married Rebecca Canter, 24, of Buena Park with their three children in tow -- two daughters from previous relationships and their 3-month-old baby boy.

"It is not right, bottom line," said Ranger, a dock worker for FedEx. His new mother-in-law, Marcy Rangel, 46, added, "When God made Adam, he then made Eve. He didn't make Adam and Adam."

No same-sex couples showed up in Santa Ana to challenge Daly's resolve or Ranger's beliefs.

A month ago, a gay couple from Garden Grove, Dorothy and Carmen Apodaca, sought a marriage license at that office and were denied, according to the women's attorney, Richard Gilbert. He has filed a complaint with the county, usually a precursor to a lawsuit.

In San Francisco, even though Lea Ananda, 55, of Sebastopol and her partner Shar Ananda, 59, have have been together 35 years, they wondered whether their legal marriage would last.

"We decided we should go, even if the licenses are voided, just for the numbers, just to show the public how many people there are who want this," Lea said.

The act of civil freedom that Lea Ananda expressed Saturday is just what Chris Roddam, a 22-year-old Navy medic, said he is serving his country for.

Roddam, who didn't want to take a day off to get married, nervously typed in the statistics on the "groom" page of his marriage license, his bride, Thoa Kieu, 20, by his side.

"I am fighting for freedom for my country," said Roddam, who recently returned from serving in Iraq. "And that included the freedom to marry whoever you want."

Staff writer Daniel Yi contributed to this report.

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