Pioneers

First Same-Sex Marriage Licenses: Love Stories from Maine, Michigan and More

Love stories of the first couples to receive same-sex marriage licenses.

The Boston Globe via Getty Images ; AFP / Getty Images ; The New York Times / Redux ; Getty Images

Just after the clock struck midnight, two men in Maine finally had their fairytale ending after nine years. Steven Bridges, 42, and Michael Snell, 53, became the first couple in the state to receive a same-sex marriage license at Portland city hall, joining eight other couples from the seven states and District of Columbia that have already legalized gay marriage to be the first to take the leap. Take a look at the love stories of the couples who have made history across the nation.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Steven Bridges and Michael Snell already got married once when they had a commitment ceremony six years ago. But on Saturday just after midnight, the nine-year couple made it official, becoming the first gay couple to wed in Maine. Rather than wait to arrange a big ceremony, they had their simple wedding right there at city hall, wearing lavender and purple carnations and sporting T-shirts that read "Love is love.” “My heart is pumping,”  Bridges told the Bangor Daily News. “Total butterflies in my stomach. We couldn’t stop smiling the whole day.” Snell and Bridges say they are planning on doing a renewal of their vows in June. Hundreds of well-wishers gathered outside Portland city hall for the same-sex couples getting married on Saturday.

David Ryder / Getty Images

Washington

Pete-e Petersen and Jane Abbott Lighty met on a blind date in 1977. “Of course, we were in the so-called closet,” Petersen said. “Fortunately, we’re blessed by nice looks, so people didn’t know right off the bat we were gay or homosexuals.” Lighty said she hid in her car on that first date until she could see what Petersen looked like. Her impression: “She’s cute and she’s short.” They moved in together two weeks later. Their wedding will be Sunday, and the journey to the altar has been a long one. Petersen was an Air Force nurse during the Korean War and was put in charge of a clinic in Texas, where she endured frequent hunts for gay men or women. “Do you have any ... people being gay here?” investigators would ask her. “Not a one,” she would respond. Lighty was married to a man for two years. “Oh, my goodness!” Lighty said Thursday. “We've been together 35 years and seen all kinds of change.”

Jason DeCrow / AP Photo

New York

Phyliss Siegal, 76, and Connie Kopelov, 84, were together for 23 years before they became the first couple to get legally married in New York. Kopelov is usually wheelchair-bound, but when it came time to celebrate for reporters, she stood and used a walker to approach them. “Your cheers are wonderful,” her wife told the crowd. “Just so amazing. It’s the only way I can describe it.” The couple met at a Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) discussion group in 1986, but didn’t begin dating until the annual SAGE holiday party the next year.

Courtesy Donna Swartwout

New Hampshire

After 19 years together, getting married in 2010 was about more for Linda Murphy and Donna Swartwout than the historic status afforded them by being the first same-sex couple to be married in New Hampshire. It was about the everyday comforts that come with that status, the “words and language that the rest of the world uses,” said Swartwout at the time. “When my nephew asks, ‘Who’s Linda?’ I get to say, ‘She’s my wife.’” That’s why though the couple had a commitment ceremony 11 years before, being a part of the “historic moment” was so important to them.

Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., may not be a state—that’s a whole other debate—but in 2010, the district did pass a law allowing its same-sex residents to legally marry. The first couple to do so, Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend, fittingly met as undergraduates at a constitutional-law class at the University of the District of Columbia 12 years prior. Better yet, they hadn’t even planned to be the first. “We are in the process getting dresses and flowers,” Young said. “We got in line for an application Wednesday at 6 in the morning, and they said we were No. 1. It’s just a dream come true.”

Andy Duback / AP Photo

Vermont

Bill Slimback and Bob Sullivan are New Yorkers, but after 17 years together, they couldn’t wait around for the Empire State to make honest men out of each other. So they tied the knot in 2009 in Vermont, where they were the first same-sex couple to be legally married. “It feels wonderful,” said Slimback. “It’s a day I’ve been long waiting for, and a day I truly, honestly thought would never come.” The newlyweds said “I do” at 12:01, one minute after Vermont’s law went into effect, at a rustic lodge under the bust of a moose.

Charlie Neibergall / AP Photo

Iowa

“By the power vested in the state of Iowa and God, I now declare you legally married,” pastor Peg Esperanza said in April 2009. “What an honor,” she added. “Amen!” The couple hearing those words was Melisa Keeton and Shelley Wolfe. Upon being the first to receive a marriage license in Iowa, they sprinted—trailed by a gaggle of reporters and supporters—the three blocks to the courthouse, where they persuaded the district judge to waive the typical three-day waiting period and marry them right then and there. “It’s not very romantic, is it?” Keeton joked about all the media attention. Nonetheless, it was a matter of minutes before the newlyweds began referring to each other as “wife.”

Shana Sureck, The New York Times / Redux

Connecticut

Barbara and Robin Levine-Ritterman fought to be the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Connecticut in 2008. They were among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the state to have same-sex marriage legalized. When the case to make the Connecticut law banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional began, Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer. “My illness made us realize how important the legal protections of marriage were to our family,” Barbara said. The couple, who has two children together, postponed their actual ceremony to May, “but we really wanted to be part of this historic first,” Robin said.

Dina Rudick / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Massachusetts

Just before they became the first same-sex couple in the nation to be legally married in 2004, Massachusetts’s Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish told reporters they weren’t seeking the limelight. But after the city clerk declared, “You may seal this marriage with a kiss,” the couple jumped up and down with glee and offered the perfect soundbites for the occasion. “Thank you. Thank you,” Kadish said. Said McCloskey: “What a way to celebrate the freedoms we have in this country. This country is fabulous. I’m just so proud to be a citizen of the United States of America.” While McCloskey and Kadish were the first couple married, Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd camped out in front of Cambridge city hall to become the first to receive their marriage license.