Baltimore City

Seven same-sex couples wed at City Hall on New Year's morning

Shortly after 12:30 a.m. New Year's Day, not long after fireworks had erupted at the Inner Harbor, James Scales and William Tasker kissed in the ceremonial room of Baltimore City Hall — sealing their new marriage as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who'd just officiated the ceremony, looked on.

Then Scales, a manager in the mayor's office since William Donald Schaefer was in charge, threw up his right hand, Tasker beamed, and the room erupted in cheers.

"It just means a lot to be able to spend the rest of our lives together, and legally," Scales, 68, said of his marriage to Tasker, 60, his partner of 35 years.

Across the building, six other same-sex couples prepared to take their own vows. Various judges were on hand to officiate for them, and others who had fought to legalize same-sex marriage in the state this year — including Del. Mary Washington — were also on hand.

"It's about so much more than us," said Darcia Anthony, 32, in a bright white gown, as her partner, Dani Williams, 32, stood next to her in a bright white tuxedo. "It's about our friends, just the people who have been there for us through the good and the bad. It's about celebrating our love."

In November, Maryland became, along with Maine and Washington, one of the first states to have same-sex marriage approved by voters at the polls. The General Assembly approved same-sex marriage earlier in the year.

The law went into effect on Tuesday, the first day of 2013, and the weddings at City Hall were among the first to take place in Maryland.

The moment was a long-awaited one for those involved, who'd been invited by the mayor — a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage — after Scales and Tasker had asked her to officiate, City Hall became a requested space and the multi-couple event was planned.

"It's just a perfect way to end a historic year," said Washington, a Baltimore Democrat and another strong supporter, who arrived at City Hall with her partner, Jodi Kelber.

"Twenty years ago, we probably would have said, 'No, it will never happen,' " said Lisa Walther, 51, of Canton, who was marrying her partner of 22 years, Brigitte Ronnett, also 51.

"We already took a 20-year anniversary before we ever took a honeymoon," Ronnett said. "We'll have to think of another trip."

Roy Neal, 60, and Bill Countryman, 53, of Dallastown, Pa., said they were thrilled to finally be getting married, but there is more to be done in the battle for equal rights.

"It's bittersweet because there are still far too many places, like Pennsylvania, where it's still not happening," said Countryman, who works as a paralegal in Baltimore and heard about the City Hall opportunity through his attorney Mark Scurti, who helped organize the event.

For Scales and Tasker, the event was a poignant moment in a long life together in Baltimore.

They met in 1977 at Frank & Ronnie's, a gay bar at the time on Boston Street. It was Christmas time and they were both sitting at the bar, Tasker remembers. They started talking, started dating, and not long after, moved in together.

The world was different then, and the couple have had their "ups and downs" since, Scales said. But they have been together ever since, in Baltimore until 2003 and in Essex from then on. To be married in City Hall was quite an honor, they said.

"We never dreamed that gay people would get married. It just didn't seem like a possibility," Tasker said.

Their hopes began to shift in the middle of this year, but they still didn't think Maryland voters were ready to pass same-sex marriage. Then election night came, and the voters did pass it, and that all changed.

"He said, 'Then we're getting married!' " Tasker said of Scales' reaction to the voters' approval.

At the conclusion of their ceremony, Rawlings-Blake and the couple exchanged a warm hug. Everyone was smiling.

Unbeknownst to them or the six other couples inside, more than a dozen well-wishers, who didn't know one another, were waiting outside, ready to welcome Baltimore's newest married couples.