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For opposite-sex couples, getting married never had to be difficult; it was as simple as a jaunt to City Hall for a marriage license or a flight to Las Vegas for a midnight ceremony.
As of June 17, San Francisco became a worthy competitor for same-sex couples. Since the California Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriages that day, choices for weddings have begun to expand.
Indeed, if you're in town for Pride Weekend and you feel the urge, the decision to marry may not call for any planning at all. For a spontaneous ceremony, head to the Heart of the Castro Wedding Chapel (4052 18th St., SF; 415-626-7743, www.heartofthecastro.com ).
Designed to offer the convenience and accessibility of a Las Vegasstyle wedding chapel, the Heart of the Castro was founded by the Rev. Victor Andersen after he learned of the Supreme Court's ruling.
"Las Vegas was the original inspiration for the chapel, but we're definitely trying to make it classy and more San Francisco," Andersen said. "But we adopted the convenience aspect of Vegas, and we're trying to keep it affordable for people who just want a sweet and simple wedding."
The Heart of the Castro already has booked several couples for ceremonies, and Andersen projects that plenty more will arrive during Pride Week, when the chapel will serve couples on a walk-in basis.
"We have a notary on hand for couples who can't get an appointment at City Hall," Andersen said.
At the Heart of the Castro, the ceremony can take place as soon as the license is issued in as little as 30 minutes. The chapel has two rooms connected by double-doors and can comfortably seat 30 to 40 guests. Andersen says the two rooms will enable simultaneous ceremonies during Pride Week.
Future wedding ceremonies can be as extravagant as couples wish, including costume and theme weddings, and ceremonies in Spanish. "In the future, we will work with couples to plan more elaborate ceremonies," Andersen said. "We encourage couples to take their weddings to a more playful place."
If couples want to take a short drive south, Kate Talbot of California Marriages in San Mateo (www.californiamarriages.com , 650-571-5555) can perform the ceremony and issue a marriage license. No witnesses are required, but couples can bring guests. Talbot, a licensed notary, has been performing weddings for 10 years, and is excited that she is now able to provide same-sex couples with her services.
"I take great pride in making each ceremony really special," said Talbot, who offers a variety of poems and blessings to be read at the couple's request. "I can reduce everyone to tears if they want, or I can make the ceremony all bang-bang in one stop," she said.
While small ceremonies can be held in her San Mateo home, many couples choose the public Japanese Friendship Garden across the street. For an additional $25, Talbot will go anywhere the couple chooses. "People can come anytime," said Talbot, who can carry out a couple's nuptials with as little as an hour's notice. "I can issue the license and perform the ceremony the same day."
Although Marcinho Savant recommends that couples "seriously consider planning" their weddings instead of marrying impulsively, a couple can still show up at City Hall for quickie marriage.
Savant is the senior events coordinator for www.savvyplanners.com , a wedding-planning service that caters to same-sex couples. "In theory, couples can get married instantly," he said. But in practice, that depends on the number of people who have the same idea at the same time.
"The challenge is that there are so many couples trying to do this," Savant said, recalling the enormous crowd at City Hall in 2004 when Mayor Gavin Newsom first legalized same-sex marriage in San Francisco. "It's completely dependent on the crowd that has amassed."
Theoretically, a ceremony can be scheduled at City Hall 30 minutes after the license is issued, providing that appointments are available. Savant recommends that couples download the marriage license application from City Hall's Web site to save time waiting in line. "But don't sign it or else it's invalid," he advised. "The application needs to be signed on site."
The license is good for 90 days. And, you don't need a minister or notary; in California, a couple can have a friend or family member perform the ceremony, although the person must acquire a license from City Hall within 60 days of the ceremony.
If a couple decides to take the religious route, many churches and some synagogues are available, although most require some advance notice:
•The First Congregational Church of San Francisco, United Church of Christ (1300 Polk, SF; 415-441-8901, www.sanfranciscoucc.org ) has been performing same-sex ceremonies for more than 20 years, according to the Rev. Dr. Wilfred Glabach. The church can accommodate religious services with a minister on staff, or couples can have the minister sign their licenses. Couples are also welcome to hire their own officiant.
•Swedenborgian Church (3200 Washington, SF; 415-346-6466, www.sfwedding.org ) also offers services. Services will be free Wednesday, June 25 and Thursday, June 26.
•The Metropolitan Community Church (415-863-4434) of San Francisco has been performing same-sex marriage ceremonies since 1971. The Rev. Lea Brown said that while they are unable to provide a place to hold weddings, they can provide clergy and music. Call for details.
•For Jewish couples, Congregation Sherith Israel (415-346-1720) is available for members. And Congregation Sha'ar Zahav (290 Dolores, SF; 415-861-6932, www.shaarzahav.org ) will perform ceremonies regardless of membership.
•Additional churches conducting ceremonies for same-sex couples are First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco (1187 Franklin, SF; 415-776-4580, www.uusf.org ); Interfaith Center at the Presidio (130 Fisher Loop, SF; 415-561-3930, www.interfaith-presidio.org ); and Unity Christ Church (2960 Ocean Ave., SF; 415-566-4122, www.unitychristchurch.org ).