Gay and lesbian residents of Sonoma County began celebrating early Wednesday morning with news from the U.S. Supreme Court that same-sex marriage would be restored in California.
In a one-two punch from the bench, the nation's highest court also struck down a provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act denying federal benefits to same-sex spouses, the twin rulings proving emotional and surreal for many of those awaiting word.
"My heart won't stop pounding," said Tim Church, who gathered with about a dozen others at a neighbor's home in Sonoma to hover over laptops as the news of the rulings came out.
"As it says on the steps of the Supreme Court: Liberty and justice for all," said his host, Gary Saperstein. "It's a good day. It's a very good day."
The court did not rule directly on Proposition 8, the 2008 state ballot measure that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
But it declared that the plaintiffs in the relevant case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, didn't have the legal standing to appeal a lower court decision that ruled it unconstitutional.
Santa Rosa resident Orlean Koehle, who fought for passage of Proposition 8 — declared "dead" Wednesday by Healdsburg activist Stu Harrison, an opponent — said she was deeply saddened by what she called an end to the "importance and sanctity of marriage."
"I think it is a tragic day in American history," said Koehle, 69.
She also criticized a ruling that essentially gave the last word to Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, whose ruling against the ballot measure ultimately gave rise to the top court's decision, over the voters of California.
"I think it's turning the rule of law upside down," she said.
The Sonoma County Clerk's Office was still waiting for state instructions on how to proceed, so marriage license won't be immediately available to same-sex couples nor likely for several weeks, county Clerk-Recorder-Assessor Bill Rousseau said.
But the mere prospect of equal access to the public dedication and recognition of marriage for gay and lesbian couples was cause for celebration for many.
"We have twin 7-year-old boys," said Jill Cingolani, of Sonoma, who married her wife, Jenifer Cochran, on the day voters approved Proposition 8. "It even means more to us because it's legitimizing our relationship in front of our children, which is huge."
Church also was among the approximately 18,000 couples who tied the knot during a roughly six-month window in 2008 between a California Supreme Court ruling overturning a state ban on same-sex marriage and the passage of Proposition 8 and said it's approval by a 52 percent vote "hurt me more than anything in the world."
"When Prop. 8 passed, I cried. It was the first time in my life that I felt like a second-class citizen, and that hurt. And that being gone means the world to me. I feel vindicated."
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