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Gay mecca fetes same-sex marriages

One of thousands of same-sex couples who've gotten married in San Francisco.
One of thousands of same-sex couples who've gotten married in San Francisco.

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SAN FRANCISCO, California (Reuters) -- Wedding bands, bottles of champagne and cake decorations with same-sex pairs of brides and grooms have been all the rage in San Francisco's largely gay Castro district since officials at City Hall began issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbians a week ago.

"There has been a general euphoria," said David Gray, manager of plant nursery Hortica.

Windows throughout the neighborhood, whose retail outlets range from the Pottery Barn to the Welcome Home restaurant and a bar called Daddy's, were decorated with signs like "Congratulations Newlyweds!" as two miles away couples from around the world descended on City Hall to get married.

"People who had gotten marriage certificates rode through the neighborhood waving their certificates and honking their horns," Gray said. "It was pretty amazing."

Hortica has seen a surge in sales of orchids for commitment ceremonies, parties and newlywed gifts, particularly on Saturday, which was also Valentine's Day, he said.

Sweets were a popular gift for betrothed lovers. Heavy sales of heart-shaped chocolates boosted sales at Faerie Queene Chocolate 10 percent over the average Valentine's Day, said owner Jeoffrey Douglas.

Five couples bought vintage wedding rings on Saturday at antique shop Brand X, said Fred Kirkbride, who runs the store with his partner of 23 years, Tim Flint.

Ring Tattoos

"We're no different from any other religion or race. There is a great responsibility that comes with marriage," Kirkbride said, adding that he and Flint are considering legally adopting each other as father and son, rather than getting married, so that they would have legal rights when traveling.

"I hope the people getting married take it seriously," said Flint. "There are consequences."

One young lesbian couple got marriage bands tattooed on their ring fingers featuring the date of their nuptials in Roman numerals, said Jason Tyler Grace, a tattoo artist at Cold Steel. "I was happy to be a small part of their marriage," he said.

The window of A Different Light bookstore was graced with a "Bride Pride" sign, newspaper clippings of some of the gay weddings and marriage congratulations cards specifically designed for same-sex couples.

Next door, the window at Cliff's Variety sported a male mannequin wearing black feather wings with red hearts on them.

"I've had a little run on tiaras," said Paul Ellis, a manager at Cliff's which sells everything from hardware to children's toys.

Down the street at card and gift shop Does Your Father Know? clerk Derik Cowan said the store was offering 30 percent off 14-karat gold commitment bands. The store sold five sets on Friday and Saturday and at least one set on Wednesday, compared to the five sets it sells in a "good" month, he added.

'Newlyweds welcome'

The Castro, located at the end of Market Street, which cuts through San Francisco's downtown area and ends just south of the center of the city, has been a gay mecca since the early 1970s.

As Irish and other working-class immigrants moved to the suburbs, gays moved into the valley nestled at the bottom of Twin Peaks and made it the launch pad for the gay rights movement on the West Coast.

At the neighborhood's Friendly Spirits liquor store this week, champagne has been flying off the shelves, with 60 to 70 bottles sold on Saturday alone, said clerk Mairhtin O'Feannag.

"We're making history here and as a merchant in this neighborhood, we're able to support people who have the courage to change the world," said Friendly Spirits owner Ken McDonald, as he kissed his partner of 16 years on the cheek.

McDonald echoed others in the neighborhood when he praised San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for defying state law in granting around 2,800 same-sex marriages so far, a controversial decision now under court challenge.

"We just love Gavin Newsom," McDonald said. "He's our hero."

A sign outside Gold's Gym said "Newlyweds Welcome, Join Today for Only $1," as part of a Valentine's Day promotion.

"It's been a big buzz around the gym, with people asking 'Did you get married?"' said Gwynn Villegas, general manager. Four couples who work out at the gym got married over the weekend, he said.

At Herth Real Estate, where the windows were decorated with photos of $800,000 condos and million-dollar homes, two sales associates had gotten married at City Hall on Saturday, as well as several clients, said Larry Stebbins, managing broker.

"One couple, on the day they closed escrow, were late picking up the keys because they were down at City Hall getting married," he said.



Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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