These four words stood out Monday during each exchange of vows at the Sonoma County Clerk's Office as same-sex couples, many fully partnered for decades, exercised their newly legal right to marry: "my lawfully wedded spouse."
In a scene that was alternately solemn and joyous and celebratory, more than a dozen gay and lesbian pairs rushed to be among the first in line as Sonoma County resumed issuing marriage licenses and performing weddings for couples of the same gender.
"We've been together 21 years. We're ready," said Glen Ellen resident Vicki Basehart, 65, who arrived at 6 a.m. Monday with her partner Sharon Church, 56, to acquire a license for their wedding later this week.
"I never thought I would live to see the day," 91-year-old Don Nicholson said as he and his partner of 48 years, Phillip Johnson, 72, shared their first moments as a married couple.
Almost three dozen people were crowded into the hallway outside the County Clerk's Office when the doors opened at 8 a.m., including more than a half-dozen couples visibly excited by the prospect of having the rights and recognition newly available to them.
By 9:30 a.m., 10 weddings had been performed and marriage licenses issued to 15 couples, Chief Deputy County Clerk Deva Proto said.
Nicholson and Johnson, Oakmont residents, had been registered domestic partners for 14 years when the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way last week for restoration of equal marriage rights in California. And as soon as it was clear licenses would be available beginning Monday, they knew they didn't want to wait.
"We didn't want to take any chances," Nicholson said with a grin.
Their wedding in the courtyard outside the Clerk's Office was witnessed by a younger couple they had met inside minutes earlier while waiting in line to get licenses. Hannah Hawkins, 35, and Heidi Hawkins, 32, of Santa Rosa, had exchanged their own vows a few minutes earlier, snapping pictures and congratulating the two gents after they sealed their vows with a kiss.
The first couple to marry, surrounded by tearful friends and relatives in a chapel room off the side of the clerk's office, were Katie and Amy Evans-Reber of Petaluma, their 1-year-old son, Cash, wriggling in Amy Evans-Reber's arms.
Flowered wreaths ringed their heads as they tearfully pledged their love and devotion, promising to care for each other through life's joys and sorrows.
Katie's sister, Emily Reber, of Long Beach, wept profusely, as did her mother, Susan Reber of Sonoma, who took the little boy aside after the wedding.
"Cash, guess what?" she asked through tears. "Your mommies are married!"
A cousin, Janice Wigman, said the day proved especially gratifying in contrast to the challenging time Katie had in high school.
"And now she's all aglow," she said. "To see that she's a mom and a bride ... it's joyous. It's just joyous."