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Supporters of marriage equality in Sonoma County started celebrating early Wednesday and continued into the night in the wake of two landmark U.S. Supreme Court rulings restoring same-sex marriage to Californians and extending the rights of married gays and lesbians around the country.

"My heart won't stop pounding," Sonoma resident Tim Church said as he processed the news at a neighbor's home minutes after the momentous decisions were made public.

"It's a good day. It's a very good day," said his host, Gary Saperstein, who opened his home to more than a dozen friends who hovered over laptops to get immediate word from the court.

Santa Rosa attorney Naomi Metz, already slated to fly to Washington today for a meeting of the national Gay and Lesbian Task Force, made a last-minute decision to travel Tuesday night so she could be at the court when the long-awaited decisions emerged.

The earlier flight meant she celebrated the news with her wife long-distance, by phone, but the chance to witness "this moment in history" was too alluring, she said.

"When it came out, the place just filled with tears — tears and laughter and whoops of excitement," Metz said, still standing in front of the Supreme Court building. "It was amazing."

In a one-two punch, the nation's highest court struck down a key provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex spouses.

The high court also paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California. It left in place a 2010 district court decision that found Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-approved ban on gay marriages, was unconstitutional.

Stu Harrison, co-chairman Wine Country Says No on 8 five years ago, on Wednesday declared it finally "dead."

"It's a momentous day," he said.

He gathered with about 75 others Wednesday night at Healdsburg Bar and Grill in a low-key victory celebration.

Harrison said the highlight of the day was watching President Obama on TV calling the two Prop. 8 plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case from Air Force One.

"We were witnesses to this phenomenal event," he said.

"This is about equality and fairness," Harrison said, adding that for the gay community "it's the end of state-sanctioned stigma. It's about respect, worthiness and the end of indignities."

"It's a big release for me personally and many other gay people of my generation," said Harrison who was there with his husband Dave Ring. They were married in 2008 by North County Supervisor Mike McGuire, before gay marriages in California were discontinued.

Healdsburg Mayor Susan Jones also was present with her wife, attorney Toni Lisoni.

She said she was proud of her fellow City Council members who joined the lawsuit to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which recognized only marriage between a man and woman.

And personally, she said, it will feel great not to have to pay to twice have her taxes filed, since the federal government didn't recognize her marriage.

Greg Miraglia who has a KRCB radio program on LGBT issues, said Wednesday's court decision felt huge for him and his husband. They were were married in Canada in 2006.

"The difference is between feeling like a second class citizen, versus first class, like everyone else," he said.

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Katherine Hastings and Catherine Rayhill, Santa Rosa women who have been together 18 years, chose Wednesday's historic rulings as the day to become engaged.

"In 25 days, we'll probably get married in San Francisco," Hastings said she sipped sparkling water.

"It's really a great day. It's been so long coming," said Roz Katz, who has been partners with Cloverdale vice-mayor Carol Russell for 44 years. They were married in San Francisco City Hall in 2008.

But others condemned the Supreme Court decision.

Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa said the federal government ought to respect that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so.

He said it is a time to strengthen traditional marriage not redefine it. Vasa said the difference between a man and a woman matters, especially in the raising of children.

Prop. 8 supporter Orlean Koehle, a Santa Rosa resident who fought for the ballot measure's passage, criticized the court for effectively allowing one judge to overrule California voters.

"It's turning the rule of law upside down," she said.

Koehle, 69, said she was deeply saddened by what she called an end to the "importance and sanctity of marriage," adding, "I think it is a tragic day in American history."

"We're disappointed," conceded Ray Henderson, president of the Santa Rosa Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which supported Proposition 8.

Henderson said traditional marriage was both a "bedrock of society" and a "divine institution," but said he hoped continuing, vigorous debate on that matter would not devolve into extremism on either side.

"This is a very polarizing issue, and for many people it's a very personal issue," he said. "People may disagree with our church's position, and so I understand how there can be some very strong feelings."

But Henderson said he hoped the debate could be held "in a civil and mutually respectful way."

California Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris instructed all 58 counties to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples once Wednesday's ruling is finalized. The wait will be at least several weeks under rules that give the losing side 25 days to petition for a rarely-granted rehearing of the case.

Sonoma County Clerk Bill Rousseau said his office already had fielded multiple inquiries and online license applications from same-sex couples beginning about a week ago.

"We're on hold for that," he said. "We can't start processing them until we get direction."

But Rousseau said he was anticipating extending hours at the clerk's office, perhaps even to the weekends, depending on the pent-up demand for licenses.

J Mullineaux of Guerneville expects to be among those in line after he and his partner of 13 years — not quite ready for marriage five years ago — missed a chance to tie the knot during a roughly six-month window in 2008, between a California Supreme Court decision overturning a ban on gay marriage and the passage of Proposition 8. An estimated 18,000 same-sex couples were married during that time.

Mullineaux said he and his partner have regretted not joining them ever since.

With the court rulings Wednesday, "both of us just burst into tears," he said. "It was just incredible."

Sonoma State University Professor Don Romesburg, chairman of the Women's and Gender Studies Department, said he was struck by the language in Justice Anthony Kennedy's DOMA opinion acknowledging that the law's second-tier status for same-sex marriages demeans gay and lesbian couples and humiliates their children.

"The state's recognition of us is a powerful and tangible way of telling the rest of society to treat us with fairness and dignity," said Romesburg, who is gay.

"We have twin 7-year-old boys," said Jill Cingolani, of Sonoma, who married her wife, Jenifer Cochran, on the day Proposition 8 was passed. "It even means more to us because it's legitimizing our relationship in front of our children, which is huge."

The DOMA ruling should mean an end to the complication and expense of tax filing for same-sex couples. These couples can file jointly with the state but must file singly with the federal government, requiring duplicates, dummy federal forms, calls, questions and sometimes late fees, those interviewed said.

But it also means people like attorney MaryClare Lawrence, whose wife and partner of 36 years stayed home and raised their children while Lawrence practiced law, can receive full Social Security benefits should something happen to her wife.

National Park Ranger Bob Holloway said he will be relieved when he can put his husband, Tom Laughlin, on a family medical plan and know that all other rights of married citizens will apply to them.

"We're just looking to be treated the same way," Holloway said. "It's all about the love. It all comes back to doing what's right with whoever you love and whoever you choose to be with."

Church, who was married in 2008 before passage of Proposition8, said its approval by a 52 percent vote "hurt me more than anything in the world."

"When Prop. 8 passed, I cried. It was the first time in my life that I felt like a second-class citizen, and that hurt," he said.

"And that being gone means the world to me."

(You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.)

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