Washington Gay Marriage: Volunteering At Seattle City Hall

Last Sunday after an official three-day waiting period, that for many couples was unofficially more like years, over 130 same sex couples were married at city hall in Seattle. 

Nearly 60 local volunteers worked behind the scenes to make this day possible. Even more onlookers turned out to bring flowers, congratulations, and goodwill to the newly married couples.

PolicyMic chatted with millennial couple Alexandra Rouse, an education nonprofit coordinator, and her law student husband, Nathan Rouse, who were two of those volunteers.

PM: As Seattleites, when did you feel the tide turned on this issue? What was the city like when it passed?

N: I’ve felt the tide has been turning ever since Washington state voters approved Referendum 71 in 2009. Ref 71 marked the first time that voters in a state gave their stamp of approval to same-sex partnership rights.

Every other state that had passed same-sex partnership bills had passed them through legislation rather than popular vote. As for the vibe in the city, it was FUCKING AWESOME. People were literally dancing in the streets.

A: On election night I was nervous. We acknowledge that we in a socially liberal bubble called Seattle, and that we don't always hold the majority of the opinion in our state.

Thankfully, we won! The city was electric, but with all the other campaigns and worries, I think folks were mainly relieved and tired.

PM: What was it like volunteering on Sunday?

N: We were greeters outside of City Hall. Our job was to direct people where to go, answer their questions, and make sure only people who were getting married and their wedding parties were allowed into the building. Letting the general public in would have created too big of a crowd inside.

Logistically, the event was quite a challenge — the city recruited dozens of volunteers who did everything from design artwork for the ceremonies to actually marry the couples —the officiants were local judges.

The finished product was pretty impressive: five wedding stations, a table for processing paperwork, and a procession down the grand staircase outside afterward with an announcer listing the names of the newlyweds.

A: We have friend who work for the city, so that’s how we got the opportunity to volunteer. What the city was attempting to do was not just historic, but fairly ambitious — marry ten couples every half an hour all day long! 

Couples had pre-registered for times to marry, but they weren't allowed inside to City Hall until their whole wedding party was assembled. We greeted them in the staging area, helped their lost wedding party friends find parking spots, and chatted with them before it was time to jump inside and get married!

Some couples would arrive almost an hour early so we were able to talk with them about their lives, their relationship, and what the day meant for them. This photographer was hanging out with us in the same area.  

PM: What were some of your favorite moments?

N: It was so amazing and positive. It didn't feel like we were spectators at all. The couples were so grateful to have volunteers. There was such a strong sense of joy and community.

I think if I was in their shoes I might have been pissed off that I had been denied such an important right for so long, but everyone we met was grateful and overjoyed.

A: So many! I'm going to list them.

1. Random love and support.

So many people came up to me saying they heard this was happening and just wanted to help out. So we would send them to the cheering section. A group of folks made beautiful boutonnières and bouquets and stood in the staging area passing them out to couples and their guests.

A 11 year-old kid and his mom baked cookies for people and handed them out in line. There was just so much love in the air and community support!

2. Commitment.

There were couples marrying who had been together for over 30 years. I was in awe!

3. Families and community.

Some wedding parties were at least 20 people strong! It was so fun to see how many parents of couples were there to support their middle aged children get married. I get teary thinking about that.

4. Watching people realize that they were getting legally married.

I would ask approaching couples, "Are you part of a wedding party, or are you getting married today." And they would look at each other, slowly smiling, then turn to me and say, "We are getting MARRIED!"

5. All of the kids that were a part of the wedding parties.

Just knowing that they are going to grow up thinking that a man marrying a man, or a woman marrying a woman is normal.

6. One moment.

A young girl asked me if she could take a picture of her and her moms.

7. Sea-town sports.

Burly Seahawks fans coming to hang out in the cheering section!

PM:  As a married couple, what did this day mean for you in the context of your own wedding and marriage?

N: A huge relief! Although some couples have refused to get married until the right exists for all couples, we did not make that choice. Going ahead and getting married was great, but it still came with some regret knowing that not everyone could enjoy the same privileges.

A: Making the choice to be married and commit to each other, “as long as we both shall live,” is a tall order. I was inspired by how many couples have been together for so long. I feel more confident in our marriage sticking it out.

Also, we initially weren't sure we wanted to legally marry because many of our friends and family couldn't legally marry. But ultimately we decided we believed in it, and would marry only if we committed to ensuring the right would be extending to our LGBT friends. And we did!

For more ways to feel warm and fuzzy today:

Check out Buzzfeed’s “60 moments that Gave Me The Chills During Seattle’s First Day of Marriage Equality” photo play-by-play.

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Marni Chan

Marni has a M.A. from NYU's Arthur Carter Journalism Institute's Cultural Reporting and Criticism Program, where she studied under Susie Linfield, Katie Roiphe, and Dennis Lim. She also has a B.A. in history and politics from Pomona College. Marni has previously written for Forbes, AOL, and Conde Nast Traveler.

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