Reporting from Washington — As a cellist and soloist performed Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are," Darlene Garner and Candy Holmes walked down the aisle Tuesday morning and became among the first gay couples to legally marry in the District of Columbia.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty congratulated Garner and Holmes and two other couples who wed at the headquarters of the Human Rights Campaign, a civil rights group focusing on gay, bisexual and lesbian rights.
"The six of you here today represent what this country is about," Fenty said. "A great step forward for equality."
Couples had planned weddings at churches, the offices of gay rights groups and the courthouse.
Since last Wednesday, when same-sex marriage was legalized in the nation's capital, the Superior Court of D.C. has received an average of 118 marriage license applications a day from both heterosexual and homosexual couples, a spokeswoman said. The courts do not separately track heterosexual and same-sex marriages. Before Wednesday, the courts averaged 10 to 12 marriage applications a day.
The court's official marriage booklet has been updated so that the ceremony will end with the couple pronounced "legally married" as opposed to "husband and wife," the Associated Press reported.
The district's decision to allow same-sex marriage is a victory for gay and lesbian rights groups after successive defeats of legislation in New York, Maine and Texas and the upholding of Proposition 8 in California last year.
Gay marriages have been legalized in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut and Vermont.
Last month, Maryland Atty. Gen. Douglas F. Gansler announced that the state will recognize same-sex marriages from out of state until the state Legislature or courts decide otherwise.
"When that happened, it was like the stars suddenly aligned with each other," said Garner, 61, of Laurel, Md., who said she would have thought about moving to D.C. if Gansler had not made that announcement.
Already, there is anecdotal evidence that a number of same-sex couples living in the district's Virginia suburbs are thinking of making the short move into D.C. or its Maryland suburbs.
Both Human Rights Campaign and Equality Maryland, a civil rights group for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender residents, said they have received e-mails inquiring about making the move.
"Maryland state agencies are looking into their policies right now to accommodate the changes that come with the attorney general's announcement," said Morgan Meneses-Sheets, executive director of Equality Maryland. "But it takes time."
At the federal level, gay and lesbian activists say, there will not be full equality until Congress repeals the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which preserves the heterosexual definition of marriage and reserves the right of individual states not to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.
Although states that recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages can revise taxation and health benefits policies to include same-sex couples, federal agencies are limited by the marriage act.