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News / Clark County News

UPDATE: Making history: Clark County gay couples wed at midnight

By Paris Achen
Published: December 8, 2012, 4:00pm

Ashley Cavner, 21, and Jessica Lee, 19, of Vancouver on Sunday likely became the first gay couple to be married in Clark County under Washington’s new marriage equality law.

“It’s great to be part of history,” Cavner said, after the ceremony.

Cavner, wearing a white dress, and Lee, in khaki slacks and a white dress shirt, were married by Vancouver wedding officiant Rob Figley just after midnight Sunday at Vancouver’s First Congregational United Church of Christ.

“I now pronounce you wife and wife,” Figley declared.

Nearly 200 guests, including brides, grooms and several members of the media, cheered and applauded as Lee joyfully swept Cavner off her feet, and the couple kissed.

“I’m ecstatic; I’m shaking,” Lee said. “I can honestly say … I’ve never been so happy in my life.”

Cavner, who plans to change her last name to Lee, said she started waiting at the church at 11:30 a.m. in hopes of being the first gay couple in the county to marry.

“I wanted us to be the first people,” Cavner said. “This is (Jessica’s) hometown. Everybody knows her.”

The second couple to be married were Sylvie Meier, 41, and Winter Erin, 28, of Portland. Meier and Erin met at massage therapy school and have been together for about a year. They plan to hold a Mardi Gras-themed wedding reception May 4 but chose to wed Sunday in order to be part of history.

“It was spontaneous and romantic, and in the past, we couldn’t just do that,” Meier said.

The couple’s marriage won’t be recognized once they cross the bridge to Oregon. But Meier said she hopes Washington’s example will nudge Oregon and the federal government to give gay couples the same right.

Five gay couples in all were married between midnight and 4 a.m. at the church. Local wedding officiants offered their services at no charge to mark the historic event.

The mass wedding event was organized by Equality Southwest Washington. The marriage equality advocacy group also organized two similar events Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the church and at Vancouver’s Esther Short Park. About five couples were married at the park Sunday morning. Two other couples were married at the First Congregational United Church of Christ Sunday afternoon, said Drew Griffin of Equality Southwest Washington.

Kathy Ward, 28, and Jean Laubinger, 25, of Portland were married in the afternoon at the church by the Rev. Marcia Stanard of Portland.

“It’s surreal,” said Ward, whose tears choked her up during some of her wedding vows.

The couple didn’t tell their families in Kansas City about the nuptials. They said they want it to be a surprise when the families gather for Christmas.

“It’s awesome,” Laubinger said.

In addition, there were multiple private ceremonies, representing multiple faiths.

Bridget and Janine Connell of Portland were married by their rabbi Sunday afternoon in front of the Clark County Courthouse.

Janine Connell had her last name legally changed to Bridget’s last July, not knowing whether they would be allowed to be legally married in their neighboring state.

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The couple have twin 8-year-old daughters.

“This is really significant in terms of our family,” Bridget Connell said Thursday when the couple obtained a marriage license.

The Washington Legislature passed a law in February to allow gay marriage. Opponents gathered signatures to challenge the law on the Nov. 6 ballot. Voters sided with the Legislature.

Eighty-three gay couples have applied for marriage licenses in Clark County since Thursday — the first day it was legal to do so. A mandatory three-day waiting period meant the first marriages couldn’t occur until Sunday. Couples have 60 days to use their marriage licenses.

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 Rev. Stanard said she volunteered to marry couples Sunday because she is a lesbian and wanted to be part of the movement toward marriage equality. As a Portlander, she is denied the right to marry her partner.

“I don’t know if I can explain how profound it is to have people voting on my rights,” Stanard said. “The idea that 28 states voted we can’t get married, and in one sweep, four states pass it all at once, is a tremendous sign that the tide is turning in this country.”

Minnesota defeated a measure to constitutionally ban gay marriage but didn’t formally legalize it.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently announced that it plans to consider gay marriage cases related to the federal ban and California’s Proposition 8 ban on marriage of gay couples.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; paris.achen@columbian.com.