Same-sex couples claim their new right to marriage

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter


Updated: December 6, 2012, 12:57 PM


 Photo Gallery: Same Sex Marriage Licenses

Same sex couples go to the Clark County Auditor's Office to apply for marriage licenses.

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Same-sex marriage Licenses

Clark County’s Marriage License Department at the Clark County Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., continues extended hours for the next two days: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Couples are asked to fill out a pre-application online at before visiting the service center.

Same-sex weddings

Public weddings will be held. Officiants will marry gay couples free of charge:

• 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 9-12 at Esther Short Park, 610 Esther St.

• Midnight to 4 a.m. Dec. 9 at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1220 N.E. 68th St.

• 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Red Cross Building, 605 E. Barnes St.

Ashley Cavner, 21, and Jessica Lee, 19, of Vancouver were the first same-sex couple camped outside the Clark County Public Service Center at 9 p.m. Wednesday to wait in line to claim a right denied to them until Thursday: marriage between the same gender.

“We didn’t think it was going to ever happen,” Lee said. “I knew we were going to be together forever. I have her initials tattooed on my ring finger, but I didn’t think we would ever be allowed to marry.”

The first marriages between same-sex couples won’t happen until Sunday, due to a mandatory three-day waiting period.

Cavner and Lee were among about a dozen couples who waited in line before the county’s Marriage License Department opened Thursday to mark the historic day. Most of the dozen arrived after midnight Thursday, bundled up in blankets and warm hats. All but two of the couples were Clark County residents. One couple drove from Alaska for the occasion; another came from Portland.

The line was shorter than anticipated. The county Marriage License Department had been preparing for crowds of hundreds and possibly thousands. With Portland next door, where same-sex marriage is prohibited, it was hard to project a turnout, officials had said.

Within the first 45 minutes the office was open, 21 couples had filed applications for marriage. The first, just before 8 a.m., was the manager of the Marriage License Department, Paul Harris, and his groom, James Griener.

A welcoming contingent of volunteers from Equality Southwest Washington served up donated coffee and baked goods outside the service center. Inside, a harpist played music as couples filed in to take a ticket and wait for their turn at one of five kiosks staffed by clerks.

Roxanne WhiteLight, 59, of Salmon Creek stood in line at 5 a.m. to apply to marry life partner Ruth Langstraat, 62. Langstraat, weak from a Wednesday dose of chemotherapy for lymphoma, was dropped off at the service center by friends at 7:45 a.m. to join WhiteLight in line.

“Today is our 19th anniversary,” WhiteLight said. “Isn’t that cool?”

The couple plan to wed Sunday during a regularly scheduled worship service at Vancouver’s All Saints Episcopal Church.

“During the campaign (for Referendum 74 to allow gay couples to marry), we held a dinner for members of the congregation and told them how this impacts us, how it feels to be excluded from one of the institutions from society,” WhiteLight said. “Our dream was we would get married at our church so everyone could come, since they helped us pass this.”

Shawn Sanders, 49, and Jocelyn Guzman, 45, drove 1,500 miles from Anchorage, Alaska, to be among the first gay couples to apply for marriage licenses in Clark County.

The couple have been together since meeting more than 16 years ago in Costa Rica. Both were travel agents employed by separate companies in separate countries and were sent at the same time to Costa Rica to do travel research.

“We came from totally different places,” Sanders said. “I lived in Miami, and she was in Mexico City. We both went to Costa Rica. The first night we met, that was it.”

The couple plan to marry at a friend’s Vancouver home on Sunday and again in Mexico City on Dec. 12. Gay couples are allowed to marry in Mexico City but not elsewhere in Mexico, Sanders said. They’ll have a traditional Mayan wedding ceremony Dec. 18 during the planetary lineup in the Mayan pyramids.

By the end of the day Thursday, 54 gay couples had applied for marriage in Clark County (five opposite-sex couples also applied for marriage). Cowlitz County had four marriage applications from gay couples as of Thursday afternoon, and Skamania County had two.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt made a proclamation at about 12:30 p.m. outside the Clark County Public Service Center, congratulating couples and commending the state for its progressive stance on marriage rights. The move will be good for the state’s and city’s economy, he said. Washington is an example the nation should follow, he said.

Nine states now allow gay couples to marry. Washington, Maryland and Maine are the only states where voters approved it (all on Nov. 6), rather than a court or state Legislature.

The couples have 60 days to use their marriage licenses. Many said they planned to either marry on the first day it’s allowed, Sunday, or 12/12/12 for the unique date.

Harris, manager of the Marriage License Department, and his partner, ­Griener, have waited nearly 40 years to marry. They both cried as they signed their applications amid applause from department staff and onlookers, flashing cameras and hovering reporters.

“Thank you to each and every one of you for giving this to us,” Griener said.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551;;;