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Maine same-sex couples marry in first hours of law

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Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012: Steven Bridges and Michael Snell, the first gay couple to be married under the state's new law, City Hall in Portland, Maine. (AP)

Same-sex couples began exchanging marriage vows Saturday morning, after the state’s same-sex marriage law went into effect at midnight.

After waiting years and seeing marriage rights nearly awarded, 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 midnight.      

Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington state approved gay marriage in November, making them the first states to do so by popular vote. Gay marriage already was 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.

In Maine, 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. The law already is in effect in Washington state; Maryland's takes effect on Tuesday, the first day of 2013.

Nobody knew exactly how many couples would be rushing to get their marriage licenses early Saturday in Maine. Falmouth joined Portland in opening at midnight. Other communities including Bangor, Brunswick and Augusta planned to hold special Saturday hours.

In Portland, the mood was festive with the crowd cheering and horns sounding at midnight. There were free carnation boutonnieres and cupcakes, and a jazz trio played.

Fourteen couples received marriage licenses, and five of them married on the spot, a city spokeswoman said. Many of those who received their marriage license were middle-aged, and some said they never envisioned a day when gay couples could wed just like straight couples.

"I came out years ago and the only thing we wanted was to not get beaten up," said Steven Jones, 50, who married his partner, Jamous Lizotte, on his 35th birthday.