WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Amid flowers, balloons, cheers and tears of joy, gay couples celebrated the right to marry in Connecticut on Wednesday, a partial rebound for gay-rights activists enraged over last week’s vote that cost them the right to wed in California.

About 150 people cheered Joanne “Jody” Mock and Elizabeth Kerrigan, the West Hartford couple who led the lawsuit that overturned Connecticut’s law, as they emerged from West Hartford’s town hall and held up their freshly issued marriage license.

“We feel very fortunate to live in the state of Connecticut, where marriage equality is valued, and hopefully other states will also do what is fair,” Kerrigan said.

The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on Oct. 10 that same-sex couples have the right to wed rather than accept a 2005 civil union law designed to give them the same rights as married couples. A lower court judge entered a final order permitting same-sex marriages Wednesday morning.

“Today, Connecticut sends a message of hope an inspiration to lesbian and gay people throughout this country who simply want to be treated as equal citizens by their government,” said the plaintiff’s attorney, Bennett Klein.

Massachusetts is the only other state that allows gay marriages. Like the highest courts there and in Connecticut, the California Supreme Court had ruled that same-sex marriage is legal this spring. But after thousands such unions were conducted in that state, California voters last week approved a referendum banning the practice.

Constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage also passed last week in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansas voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents.

The California vote has sparked protests and several lawsuits asking that state’s Supreme Court to overturn the prohibition.

A group of Southern California activists have launched an effort to have simultaneous protests outside state houses and city halls in every U.S. state on Saturday. Word of the event has spread through social networking sites such as Facebook, and protests have been scheduled outside the U.S. Capitol and in more than 100 cities.

Gay rights advocates now expect some out-of-state couples to come to Connecticut to get married. The state doesn’t require Connecticut residency to receive a marriage license, although few other states are likely to recognize the marriages.

“I think we will certainly see some couples taking advantage of it,” said Anne Stanback, executive director of the Connecticut-based gay marriage advocacy group Love Makes a Family.

Stanback said some couples from states like neighboring New York and nearby Vermont, considered to be on the cusp of possibly granting same-sex marriage, may decide to wait until it’s official in their home states. Others, she said, may want to cross the border to tie the knot.

“I think there will be couples from other states where there are no prospects in the near future who will be coming to Connecticut,” she said.

About 18,000 gay couples who married in California before the law was overturned are still considered legally married, although some couples are nervous that could change.

Mock said Wednesday that she and Kerrigan know some of those couples, and felt doubly fortunate that their marriage likely would not be in jeopardy of the same limbo.

Some gay rights supporters in West Hartford cheered, “Go Connecticut!” as Michael Miller and Ross Zachs exchanged vows on the town hall steps Wednesday. The Hartford couple were wed by a Universal Life minister minutes after receiving their marriage license.

“I am thrilled, overwhelmingly honored to be able to pronounce you married,” minister Carole MacKenzie told the couple, who have been together for more than eight years.

“We could have set any date to get married, but we wanted to do it on the first day that was possible,” Zachs said.

State Rep. Beth Bye and her partner, Tracey Wilson, had a small, informal wedding Wednesday morning. State Sen. Jonathan Harris, who is a justice of the peace, presided over the ceremony.

“To have Jonathan Harris say to us, ‘You’re legally married,’ took my breath away. It was fabulous,” said Bye, of West Hartford.

Diane Boxer, 60, surprised her partner, Janet Mrozowski, 46, with a half-dozen yellow roses to mark the occasion at West Hartford Town Hall. They were joined in a civil union in June, and Wednesday was their 12th anniversary.

The couple plans a small wedding ceremony soon after getting their license in their hometown of South Windsor.

“I just never thought that it would happen even in my lifetime. I’m so happy,” Mrozowski said.

Several couples who attended Wednesday morning’s court hearing in New Haven Superior Court paraded to City Hall to be among the first to receive marriage licenses. Among them were Peg Oliveira and Jennifer Vickery, who wed outside City Hall, next to a statue commemorating the Amistad slave ship’s struggle for freedom.

Despite the roaring traffic and clicking cameras, “It was surprisingly quiet,” Oliveira said after the brief ceremony. “Everything else dissolved, and it was just the two of us. It was so much more personal and powerful in us committing to one another, and so much less about the people around us.”

There was no comparison between civil unions and marriage for Robin Levine-Ritterman and Barbara Levine-Ritterman, who obtained a civil union in 2005 and were among eight same-sex couples who sued for the right to marry.

“We didn’t do it with pride or joy,” Barbara Levine-Ritterman said of getting the civil-union license. “It felt gritty to be in a separate line.”

On Wednesday, however, she proudly held up the first same-sex marriage license issued in New Haven as about 100 people applauded outside City Hall. She and her betrothed, who held red roses, plan to marry in May.

“It’s thrilling today,” Barbara Levine-Ritterman said. “We are all in one line for one form. Love is love, and the state recognizes it.”

Manchester Town Clerk Joseph Camposeo, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said clerks in the state’s 169 communities were advised by e-mail shortly after 9:30 a.m. they could start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

“The feedback I’m getting from other clerks is that we’re all at the ready, but no one really has a sense yet of what kind of volume we’re going to get,” he said.

According to the state public health department, 2,032 civil union licenses were issued in Connecticut between October 2005 and July 2008.

The health department had new marriage applications printed that reflect the change. Instead of putting one name under “bride” and the other under “groom,” couples will see two boxes marked “bride/groom/spouse.”

Connecticut voters could have opened the door to ending gay marriage last week by voting for a constitutional convention to amend the state’s constitution, but the measure was defeated.

Peter Wolfgang, the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, a gay-marriage opponent, acknowledged that banning gay weddings in Connecticut will be difficult but vowed not to give up. He condemned the high court’s decision as undemocratic.

“Unlike California, we did not have a remedy,” Wolfgang said. “It must be overturned with patience, determination and fortitude.”

The state’s 2005 civil union law will remain on the books, at least for now. Same-sex couples can continue to enter civil unions, which give them the same legal rights and privileges in Connecticut as married couples without the status of being married. Several states, including California, allow domestic partnerships or civil unions for same-sex couples.


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