PORTLAND, Maine – After waiting years and seeing marriage rights nearly awarded and then retracted, gay couples in Maine's largest city didn't have to wait a moment longer than necessary to wed, with licenses issued at the stroke of midnight as the law went into effect.
Among them were Steven Bridges and Michael Snell, who held a commitment ceremony six years ago but wanted to make their marriage official under state law.
"It's historic. We've waited our entire lives for this," said Bridges, a retail manager, who's been in a relationship with the Snell, a massage therapist, for nine years. Bridges, 42, and Snell, 53, wore lavender and purple carnations on black T-shirts with the words "Love is love."
More than a dozen couples stood in line to get marriage licenses at Portland City Hall early Saturday. There were free carnation boutonnieres, and a jazz trio played.
With Snell's two adult daughters looking on, they exchanged their vows in the city clerk's office after getting the first marriage license issued to a same-sex couple in Portland. They said they'll hold another ceremony with friends this summer, after the weather warms up.
Voters approved gay marriage in November, making Maine and two other states the first to do so by popular vote. The law is already in effect in Washington state; Maryland's takes effect on Tuesday, the first day of 2013.
Gay marriage was already legal in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia, but those laws were either enacted by lawmakers or through court rulings.
The Maine Legislature had once approved same-sex marriage, but it was overturned by a statewide referendum three years ago, crushing couples who had already made wedding plans. Gay marriage supporters collected signatures to put it on the ballot again, and this time it was easily approved.
Gov. Paul LePage signed off on the certified election results on Nov. 29, so the new law was to go into effect 30 days from that date. In addition to gay marriage becoming legal, same-sex marriages in other states will now be recognized by the state of Maine.
Nobody knew exactly how many couples would be rushing to get their marriage licenses early Saturday. Falmouth joined Portland in opening at midnight. A handful of other communities including Bangor, Brunswick and Augusta planned to hold special Saturday hours.
Suzanne Blackburn and Joanie Kunian, of Portland, were among those in line to get their license at midnight, but they didn't plan to wed immediately. One of their grandchildren wanted them to get married on Valentine's Day.
"I don't think that we dared to dream too big until we had the governor's signature," Blackburn said. "That's why it's so important, because it feels real."