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The wait to be married is not over for dozens of gay and lesbian couples who arrived at San Francisco City Hall today only to learn this afternoon that a federal judge had extended a temporary stay on a ruling that overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban.
Throngs of people anxiously awaited U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling on the stay this morning. The decision was expected by noon but wasn’t issued until about 12:30 p.m.
Inside City Hall, many of the 14 couples then waiting in line for the county clerk had a cell phone in hand and were frequently checking for news updates.
“I can’t get Internet service in here, so I’m texting with my friends who are outside who would hear word first,” one man from Palo Alto said.
Down to the last minute, Molly McKay, media director for Marriage Equality USA, was frantically checking her cell phone for updates and shaking her head as the noon deadline came and went.
Yells and loud cheers erupted from some in crowd at 12:25 p.m., when unconfirmed sources reported that Walker planned to lift the stay. But the second part of the message went unheard: that the stay would not be lifted until 5 p.m. on Aug. 18.
Unaware of the temporary stay, one woman turned to her partner and said, “Come on, let’s go!” as people streamed into City Hall and through security to join the line at the county clerk’s office.
Tears rolled down cheeks, embraces became contagious and couples smooched openly. A man who had been waving a rainbow flag throughout the morning suddenly leaned up against the stone exterior of City Hall and began to weep.
But tears of joy turned to tears of disappointment outside the clerk’s office. A collective groan echoed in the hallway as the restrictions on the decision were explained and once-flushed cheeks became pale.
Many of the three dozen couples in line said they were crestfallen, but planned to return next Wednesday, although at least one woman became visibly angry and upset.
“This is not good news, this is insulting!” she shouted.
City officials spoke to the crowd and to cameras, explaining that while they were prepared to issue licenses today – with 63 volunteers and extended hours of operation – they plan on making the same arrangements next week.
“We will be so prepared next week,” County Clerk Edwin Lee said.
“We’ll be working on the details with our staff and with our volunteers.”
Assessor-recorder Phil Ting said that the city will continue to work to ensure the marriages can be performed next week. “We’re very eager to be part of allowing joyous couples to be married, families to be united.”
With the extended hours, up to 150 couples per day can be married, he said. He encouraged people to make reservations through the office’s online system.
Teresa Rowe, who had traveled from Suisun City this morning, spoke to Ting directly, saying, “There are a lot of heartbroken couples here right now. Could you say something to them?”
Ting asked them to be patient.
“Our heart goes out to many couples who have not just waited many days but years for the opportunity to get married,” he said.
Midge Detro and Sandy Simmons, who drove up to the city from Hollister early this morning to wed, had said before the news broke that they had hoped to celebrate at this afternoon’s Giants game.
The couple opted to wait outside for the news in the sun with their friend Tara Walsh, who was among the couples married in June 2008.
By 11:45 a.m., when it was clear that the Giants game was out of the picture, Walsh joked, “there’s always another day for garlic fries, but there might not be another day to get married.”
Proponents of Proposition 8 are appealing Walker’s decision on the stay, and it is possible that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will issue an emergency stay before Aug. 18 — in which case same-sex weddings could still be a ways off.
“People here today are hoping that luck goes their way,” Walsh said.
San Francisco resident Hank Donat, a self-described gay housewife who said the marriage equality movement has been a cornerstone in his life, said the same-sex couples are caught up in the confusion that results from brief opportunities to legally wed.
“We’re bolting through a closing door for our rights,” Donat said. “When the stay is lifted I’ll know that justice has prevailed. It’s about the protection of rights. What’s love got to do with it?”
After all the same-sex couples shuffled out of City Hall, a bride in her white wedding gown, train and all, glided down the hallway with her groom to be married by the county clerk.
Flower girls pranced around folding chairs in the north light court, waiting to be part of a wedding party, and the other procession of marriage carried on.