BELLINGHAM - Greg Lee never thought this day would come.
With tears in his eyes, he squeezed Patrick Bertels' hand and said his vows to the man he'd spent more than 23 years with.
"It's been a long time coming," Lee said. "I didn't think it would happen in my lifetime."
Lee and Bertels were one of the first same-sex couples to get married in Whatcom County on Sunday, Dec. 9 - the first day the marriages were legal in the state - in a ceremony on the steps on the Whatcom County Courthouse. Three other couples also were married at the afternoon event, as a crowd of about 50 people cheered them on from the sidewalk.
Their mothers were their witnesses as they signed their marriage certificate; they had been the second couple in line on Thursday, Dec. 6, the first day same-sex couples could get marriage licenses, and they were excited even then. Jeanne Bertels, Patrick's mother, said she was happy to see the couple tie the knot.
"It felt good," she said. "I think they're very happy."
Ellen Harwick and Bonnie Southcott were married next, as their children stood smiling by their side. The couple had had a wedding ceremony in 2011, and they made it legal on Sunday.
"The law caught up with love," Southcott said.
Catherine and Janet Greene celebrated their four-year anniversary by getting hitched Sunday as well, with two of their children by their side.
The event was planned by Gary Shoemaker, pastor with First Christian Church in Bellingham, and his wife, Tamalyn Kralman, who also is an ordained minister. Other officiants were on hand as well, sharing wedding duties. Kralman described the ceremonies as beautiful.
"Today is a day we've all been waiting for for so long," Kralman said. "It's a chance to say we're all equal. Why can't everyone else have the same opportunities we had to build a family and build a life if they want to? Everybody deserves a chance at love and happiness."
Michael Butler had to remind himself to breathe as he wed his partner of more than 12 years, Jonathan Holbert. Butler described a rush of feelings as the ceremony came to an end; he was nervous, ecstatic, happy, but most of all, he felt love.
"I hope everyone feels as happy and as loved as I feel today," he said. "This is the best Christmas present ever."
"My heart just feels like it has wings," he said.
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