OLYMPIA -- Two retired military women who fought for the rights of gays in the military were among the hundreds of couples who received their marriage licenses this week as Washington state's voter-approved law allowing same-sex marriage took effect.
Former Air Force flight nurse Maj. Margaret Witt, of Spokane, and retired nurse, Army Col. Grethe Cammermeyer, of Whidbey Island, both successfully challenged the military's ban on open service by gays and lesbians. They were first in line Thursday in their home counties to receive their licenses with their partners.
"First, to be able to serve their country openly was in and of itself historical, and a significant step forward for our nation. And now to be able to legally wed the person they love is yet another historical milestone," said Anne Levinson, a gay rights activist who worked on the campaign to approve same-sex marriage. "They're remarkable women."
Gov. Chris Gregoire and Secretary of State Sam Reed certified the election Wednesday afternoon, and the law took effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.
"It will be an amazing energetic, joyous experience," said Witt, who will marry her partner of nine years, Laurie Johnson, on Dec. 15 in Spokane.
Witt, 48, was discharged from the Air Force Reserve because the military learned she was a lesbian, but a federal judge found her dismissal unconstitutional in 2010, and Witt retired with a full military pension last year. She is currently a physical therapist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Spokane.
The policy that banned gay and lesbian members of the military from serving openly, known as "don't ask, don't tell," was repealed last year, but Witt said there's more to be done.
Since gay marriage is still not recognized under federal law, Witt said that military family members are still at risk of not being recognized as next of kin by the military.
Cammermeyer plans to get married Sunday at her home in Langley, joined by nine other couples who will also get married there before her annual Christmas party that will also serve as a wedding reception.
Cammermeyer, 70, earned national attention with her fight to stay in the Washington National Guard. She was fired in 1992 after disclosing her sexual orientation during a 1989 interview for a security clearance as chief nurse of the National Guard. A federal judge ordered her reinstated in 1994.
Cammermeyer said her ability to now marry Diane Divelbess, her partner of 24 years, was an "opportunity to be treated as a family and as equals."
"There's still a lot of inequities that state law can't take care of, but it certainly shows that we are one of many states now that are moving toward recognition," Cammermeyer said.