When Petaluma resident Katie Evans-Reber heard that gay marriage was legal again in California, she was overjoyed.

"I called the county right after I heard the decision last week," said Reber. "At first they weren't sure when they would begin marrying couples. But 45 minutes later when I called back, they said that we could have the first appointment Monday morning. We jumped at the chance."

Holding their 1-year-old son, Cash, before a packed courthouse, Evans-Reber and her partner Amy became the first same-sex couple to utter the words "I do" and be legally married in Sonoma County since 2008.

"To come full circle like this — growing up in Sonoma, coming out in high school, having a difficult time, and now to be the first gay couple married in the county — it's been extremely emotional," said the 33-year-old human resources manager.

For the Evans-Rebers, it's been a long time coming. The couple has been together for almost nine years and was ready to get married in 2011. But because Proposition 8 had invalidated gay marriage in the state of California, they registered as domestic partners last March instead.

"But we've been waiting for this," said Evans-Reber. "It was such an amazing day, with so much love and support from our families and friends. My partner even carried our son. I mean, my wife. She was my partner — now she's my wife."

By refusing to rule on the California law that banned gay marriage, the Supreme Court essentially allowed a lower court's ruling that overturned Prop. 8 to stand, making same-sex marriages legal in the state once again. The court also quashed the federal Defense of Marriage Act last Wednesday, meaning that the federal government will now recognize same-sex marriages in states where they are legal. For many, like the Evans-Rebers, it means the opportunity to have the same rights straight couples have always enjoyed. For other couples, like Sonoma County District Attorney Chief Deputy Diana Gomez and her wife Heidi Fowers, it means having their marriage — which was invalidated in 2008 under Prop. 8 — restored.

"We are finally the same as everyone else," said Gomez, who has been with Fowers for almost 20 years and lived in Petaluma for the past 12. "We have the same rights, obligations and benefits everyone else has. If something happens to one of us, our family is protected. When we pay our taxes, we pay what everyone else pays. I have spent my career in the District Attorney's office fighting for the rights of others, while not enjoying those same rights myself. Now, we finally have them."

Gomez and Fowers were among many couples married during a four-month long window in 2008, following the state's Supreme Court ruling that made gay marriage legal in California.

"We got married and never really got to celebrate it because three days later it was invalid," said Gomez. "This is like our delayed celebration."

Fowers said she never expected being married to matter as much as it does. "I was surprised at how emotional the ceremony was in 2008," Fowers said. "It changed our relationship and even though Prop 8 didn't change it back, it did show me how important it was to be able to commit to one another for the rest of our lives."

Gomez and Fowers have two children, a 15-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter — both of whom are very pleased. "For our kids, it allows them to say, 'yes, my parents are married' instead of 'my parents live together'," said Gomez. "It matters."

Fowers says it's the things straight couples don't have to worry about that mean the most to her. "We've been audited for the past three years in a row for claiming as married on our federal tax returns," said Fowers. "We've had to take our children's birth certificates with us on trips around the country — things that no straight couple ever has to worry about. We've gone through the different levels of inferior relationship status — in a domestic partnership. Now, finally, we can just be married."

Last week's gay rights decision not only gave recognition to married same-sex couples in California, it also made things like social security benefits, tax filings and health directives available nationally for the first time. But Petaluma Councilmember Gabe Kearney — who recently entered into a same-sex domestic partnership himself — said there is still a long way to go before the gay community has equality on a national scale.

"There are still states out there where you can be fired for being gay," said Kearney, who is an ordained minister and plans to officiate over same-sex marriages in the county. "We're not asking for anything special. We just want the same rights as everyone else and we want it nationwide."

Evans-Reber agreed that the rulings were only a first step. "I'm so happy and grateful that I was able to get married in California, but there are many states still waiting," she said. "Especially on my wedding day, I don't want to forget all the people who still can't get married."

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)