John McCluskey and Rudy Henry of Tacoma signed their marriage application Thursday and made history as the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Pierce County.
A crowd of about 50 people cheered and applauded as gay and lesbian couples left the Pierce County Auditor’s Office with their marriage certificates in hand.
“It’s just exciting,” said McCluskey, 76. “We never even thought it would get to this day.”
Henry, 78, was excited as well. “I couldn’t sleep very well,” he said.
With Henry recovering from a stroke, special arrangements were made to pick them up early Thursday.
After being a couple for nearly 54 years, McCluskey and Henry will get married Dec. 15 at First United Methodist Church in Tacoma.
Marriage licenses became available Thursday after state Referendum 74 was certified. The first weddings won’t occur until Sunday because of the state’s three-day waiting period.
The local Auditor’s Office opened at 6:30 a.m. for the first couples to get their licenses. By 7:10 a.m., 28 couples had passed through and the rush was over.
A group of supporters cheered each couple as they left with their licenses in hand. One man gave out pink and yellow roses.
Auditor Julie Anderson guessed last week that 150 couples would apply for a marriage license on the first day; by the time the extended hours ended at 8 p.m., the real number turned out to be 71.
Couples lined up minutes before the county started issuing licenses at the County Annex.
Heather Kawamoto and Kay Lancaster were second in line with their 9-year-old daughter, Kayleigh Kawamoto, who sipped from a carton of milk. The Tacoma couple will get married Sunday at a Tacoma restaurant.
“It’s the culmination of so many dreams and hopes,” said Kawamoto, 38.
“It’s overwhelming, exciting and emotional,” said Lancaster, 51.
The first two couples were pre-selected.
One of the next couples in line was Ann Dahl and Barbara Root.
“It means that we’re finally starting to get equal rights with everyone else in the country,” said Dahl, 57, of Tacoma. “We’ve been together for 33 years, and we want everyone to know it.”
Root, 59, agreed. “I think it’s finally a recognition of the civil rights we’ve essentially been denied for our lifetime,” she said.
Anderson’s office handed out numbers Wednesday that determined the order of licenses doled out Thursday. Twenty couples reserved spots.
The Auditor’s Office will stay open for extended hours again today and will be open for the weekend to accommodate those wanting to get a marriage license. Other licensing and passport services will be offered as well.
The first-day rush was heavier in King County, where licensing started at 12:01 a.m. as soon as the law took effect. By noon Thursday, more than 390 marriage licenses had been issued.
“I think we did the right thing by overplanning,” Anderson said of Pierce County’s preparations. “Overplanning was one reason the morning went smoothly.”
In the morning dark before the doors officially opened, Anderson grabbed a rented bullhorn and reminded the couples they needed their number and $64 in cash for the license. She finished with one more question.
“Do you have love in your heart?” she asked.
The answer was clear as the crowd streamed up to eight windows with waiting clerks.
Jon Curtis, 48, and Tom Duguay, 43, of DuPont, were the last couple with an advance reservation.
“I think it’s so significant for people to be a part of history,” said Curtis, a retired teacher who is disabled. “I’m really proud of Washington state for choosing love over politics.”
The couple had a commitment ceremony in Texas on Dec. 16, 1995. They’ll get married Dec. 16 at a coffee shop in DuPont.
“I’m just excited we get to be recognized officially and legally here,” said Duguay, a claims representative for the Social Security Administration in Olympia.
A heterosexual couple was No. 6 in line. Janet Thiessen, 63, and Ken Miller, 64, both supported R-74.
“We really wanted to be part of it,” said Thiessen, of Tacoma.
They will be married Dec. 31 at their home.
Bree Kelly said she felt great when she walked out with a license to marry her partner of 11 years, Kay Bratton. The Tacoma couple will get married Wednesday.
“It feels like it’s about time,” said Kelly, 34.
“It’s nice to have parity with everyone else,” said Bratton, 50.
Emily Hadley and Deborah McCarthy came with their 9-year-old son, Jonathan Hadley-McCarthy.
Their wedding Sunday at their Tacoma home will fulfill a promise.
“We promised 17 years ago not to get married until it’s legal,” said Hadley, 40, who works as a barista.
McCarthy, who works as a magazine distribution analyst, said marriage offers legal recognition of their commitment and some sense of security.
“It just means if something happens, my partner is taken care of,” said McCarthy, 44. “I’ve always loved her.”Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/street @TNTstevemaynard