A wedding day to remember

I’ve never worn snow boots and a parka to a wedding before, but Saturday was a very special occasion.

At midnight, a new law went into effect allowing same-sex couples in Maine to receive a marriage license.

City Hall in Portland and Falmouth opened in the first hours of the day so couples — many that have been waiting decades for the chance to marry — could file out the paperwork, get a marriage license and, if they wanted, tie the knot.

More than 500 people stood together at Portland City Hall in the bone-aching cold to cheer the first state-recognized marriages of same-sex couples in Maine, to witness history and to celebrate a day long in the making.

People began gathering before 10 p.m. on Friday when the doors to City Hall opened. The first couple inside was Steven Bridges and Michael Snell.

Just after midnight, they filled out the paperwork to receive a marriage license and were married. They emerged from City Hall a few minutes later flanked by reporters from newspapers and television.

The crowd went the good kind of crazy.

The joy was real in the faces of the people who were there.

There was singing and shouting. Tears and smiles. Hugs and high fives.

As more couples emerged from City Hall, they were welcomed with a loud celebration of their relationships.

Other city and town halls across the state also opened on Saturday, giving loving couples a chance for weekend wedding.

For thousands of loving, committed same-sex couples in Maine, marriage had been elusive.

In 2009, the Maine Legislature and then-Gov. John Baldacci passed a law allowing same-sex couples to receive a marriage license. Later that year, a People’s Veto took the chance away.

Changing minds one conversation and one person at a time, an army of volunteers worked for two years for a better result. In November, voters decided that, in the words of Harlan Gardner of Machias, “marriage is too precious a thing not to share.”

Before that election, voters had never approved a referendum to allow same-sex couples to marry. Maine changed that.

Suzanne Blackburn and Joanie Kunian were among the couples at Portland City Hall on Saturday. Even after the election, they told the Associated Press that they were reluctant to get too excited until after Gov. Paul LePage certified the results.

“I don’t think that we dared to dream too big until we have the governor’s signature,” Blackburn said.

After electoral wins in Maine, Maryland and Washington state, and a successful effort in Minnesota to defeat a constitutional amendment that would have barred same-sex couples from marrying there, there are a lot of people who are allowing themselves to dream big.

Same-sex couples began marrying in Washington in December, and Maryland celebrated its first marriages on Jan. 1.

Last year was an epic year in the struggle for the freedom to marry, and 2013 is poised to be even bigger. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering two cases that could fundamentally alter the national landscape around marriage.

And new laws allowing same-sex couples to receive a marriage license are being considered – and hopefully will pass — in Illinois, Rhode Island, Delaware and Hawaii.

There are promising signs that the change in attitudes that we’ve seen in Maine are happening elsewhere, but it would be a terrible mistake for supporters of marriage to think that the struggle is over.

While the freedom to marry will grow, there will undoubtedly be setbacks, too. Progress is surely coming, but it won’t happen without hard work and commitment.

On the day my wife and I got married, it was hot, unusually hot for late in September on Maryland’s eastern shore. Our wedding was outside, and there was little relief from the heat.

We couldn’t even count on a breeze to cool down the groomsmen, crammed into tuxedos. The ceremony was short, and some of the speeches were long.

I will always remember my wedding day in 1998.

And I will always remember the day that Bridges and Snell, and dozens of others around Maine, got married.