BELLINGHAM - Melissa Adams had tears in her eyes as she held the envelope in her hand.
Inside was something she'd been waiting for for years: a marriage license.
She and her soon-to-be wife, Sarah Adams, were the first Whatcom County couple to get their license Thursday, Dec. 6, the first day that gay couples throughout the state could legally get their marriage licenses after the state's Nov. 6 vote to legalize same-sex marriage.
The Bellingham couple was the first in line at the Whatcom County Courthouse at 5 a.m., and by the time the Auditor's Office opened its doors at 8:30 a.m. there were more than a dozen people waiting with them. Throughout the day, the Auditor's Office sold more than 20 marriage licenses, compared to a usual four or five per day this time of year, said Auditor Debbie Adelstein.
Couples clapped and cheered as the two women were the first to complete the licensing process.
"I can't even explain it," Melissa Adams said as she held the license. "It's just awesome. I'm shaking. My whole body is trembling. It means the whole world."
The couple had a commitment ceremony in 2009 and took the same last name at that time. They plan to marry Monday, Dec. 10, at the courthouse.
Knowing they'll finally be able to be legally married was surreal, Sarah Adams said.
"It means we're finally recognized as partners in life, partners in joy, partners in sadness, partners in love, partners in everything," she said. "This is just huge."
As they waited, couples chatted cheerfully, hugged and even broke out in an impromptu version of the 1964 pop hit "Chapel of Love." The opening lyrics - "Goin' to the chapel and we're gonna get married " - echoed through the courthouse rotunda.
Sudden Valley couple Jeanne Fondrie and Kate Miller had been singing the song all morning before getting in line at about 7 a.m. The couple, who have been together for 27 years, will get married Wednesday, Dec. 12, along with two other couples at a friend's house.
"We would never have thought that this would happen in our lifetime," Miller said. "The changes in the last couple years have been so fast and so amazing."
Many of the couples were excited that, not only will they get to marry, but the majority of people in Washington support their right to do so.
"It's a chance to be just like everyone else," said Bellingham resident Michael Butler, who was getting a license to marry Jonathan Holbert. "What's really nice about this is that our fellow Washingtonians voted for this. That makes me so proud to say I'm a Washingtonian."
The couple is still in the process of planning a small ceremony, but one thing was certain: after being together for more than 12 years, they wanted to get their license as soon as possible.
"We've waited long enough," Holbert said. "We didn't want to wait one more day."