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San Bernardino: 'I better stop or I’ll look like Tammy Faye!'

June 17, 2008 |  3:48 pm

Bryan Burch, 50, and Mark Wensel, 45, became the first gay couple Tuesday to marry in San Bernardino County and the first to get their picture in a display case with bride and groom photos and other more traditional wedding memorabilia.

The two men stood under a white arbor outside the Hall of Records, quietly crying as the marriage vows were exchanged.

Burch, a 50-year-old budding playwright, had to call a brief pause.

“I need to get a Kleenex,” he said, fishing through a bag and wiping his eyes.

And then it was done.

“Those who get annoyed and upset at two guys or two women together, well, time will take care of that,” Burch said.  “But I think it’s really sad that it is being put before the public for a vote, because people need to know a gay or lesbian person first so they’ll know we are not a scary force trying to take over.”

Click on the link below to read more San Bernardino County wedding stories from  Times staffer David Kelly.

Around the corner, two women quickly staged the county's first lesbian wedding.

Julie LaMontagne, 48, and Paulina Martinez, 45, of Redlands took advantage of their last day in California to get married. The couple is moving to Florida.

They met playing pool in a pub and have lived together for 18 years. As the ceremony began, LaMontagne began crying, makeup running down her face.

“I better stop or I’ll look like Tammy Faye!” she said.

Afterward, she said,  “The fact that this is so publicly recognized is what makes it so powerful. I think we will end up appreciating marriage more than heterosexual couples because it has been so difficult for us.”

Larry Walker, auditor/controller-recorder, said the county, which had scheduled 35 marriages through the day, wanted to keep things flowing smoothly.

“Our goal is to do the same today as we did yesterday,” he said, watching two women get married. “We want everyone to feel as comfortable as possible here.”

All marriages were consolidated in the main office, but will be offered at satellite locations across the county once everyone is properly trained, he said.

Jackie Rhodes and Aurora Wolfgang, two professors at Cal State San Bernardino, had the biggest wedding of the morning with about a dozen guests.

Rhodes, 42, bought a tuxedo for the occasion. The man who sold it to her asked if it was a Father’s Day gift.

“I said, 'No, I’m getting married,’ ” she said.

This would be the couple’s third marriage. They were wed in Italy in a "spiritual union" and again in San Francisco, but that marriage was overturned by the courts.

“We don’t want to be seen as just roommates or partners or lovers and all of those difficult terms we always have to come up with,” Rhodes said. “This is a wonderful and difficult step forward. I fully anticipate some ugliness between now and November.”

Wolfgang, 48, whose smile never dimmed, said the two have been married “in our hearts” since meeting at a faculty reception seven years ago.

“But today it really feels like the first time,” said the professor of French literature and language.

The couple exchanged the same rings they have used in previous marriages, a gold platinum set with the words “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” –- a verse from the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon -- etched on the side.

Rhodes, who teaches composition and rhetoric, said she doesn’t know what her opponents want.

“They don’t want us to exist but we are not going away. They can overturn lots of things and we aren’t going away,” she said. “I keep saying, 'The train is slow but the train is coming.' ”

Outside, Jennifer Alkire, 23, and Jennifer Alkire, 21, of Joshua Tree were also married in matching white T-shirts and flowered shorts. One Jennifer took the other’s last name.

  “This is a historic day for California,” Alkire said. “The state is saying love equals love and it’s not just something between a man and a woman.”

Another marrying couple, Jayson Burke, 53, and Gary Webb, 47, of Crestline have lived together for 23 years.

“For me its already clear that we are in a committed relationship,” said Burke, a graphic artist wearing a dark three-piece suit. “But I don’t understand why I could go out on the street and ask a girl to get married but couldn’t do the same for a man.”

Even after decades of living together the prospect of marriage carried a bit of apprehension.

“My dad said things will change now that we are married,” Webb said.

That view was echoed by Billy Cross, 55, and Denny Withington, 66, of San Bernardino. They have been together for 34 years, yet now everything seemed a bit more serious.

“This whole day feels weird,” Cross said. “We come from a time when this wasn’t even open for discussion. It feels overwhelming. It feels awkward. It feels alien. When you change something about your relationship you wonder if it will change your relationship.”

As for the rest of the customers coming in to change names, get new birth certificates or perhaps have a traditional marriage, it was all a bit of a spectacle.

“I have never seen anything like this in San Bernardino,” said Stefanie Graham, 24. “But it doesn’t bother me. I’m getting married next year -– to a guy. I can marry the person I want and they can marry the person they want.”

-- David Kelly