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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mass Ceremony Joins 165 Gay Couples

SAN FRANCISCO, California -- In the first ritual of its kind, 165 gay and lesbian couples were symbolically joined in official bliss at San Francisco's temporary City Hall on Monday in a festive but dignified mass ceremony presided over by Mayor Willie Brown.

Walking down the aisle in everything from blue jeans to wedding dresses, 10 to 20 couples at a time took a vow of partnership given by city officials, then kissed as friends and family members cheered.

"As usual we are first, and by virtue of your participating in this ceremony, you are part of history," Brown said before personally pronouncing 30 of the couples to be "lawfully recognized domestic partners."

The ceremony, made possible by a new city law, gives gay and lesbian couples the kind of public recognition and official blessing they have long sought.

"Eighteen years ago, we had to be married in secret," said Henry Kielarowski, 49, standing with his arm around his partner, Joseph De La Rosa Jr., 42. "We are happy to be able to do this finally publicly in a city we love very much."

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance in January allowing public officials to perform domestic partnership rites for any two people who register with the city as a couple and pay a $30 fee.

Unmarried couples have been able to register as domestic partners in San Francisco since 1991. Although they do not enjoy the same rights as married people, they gain certain legal protections, such as being able to visit their partners in hospitals. In addition, registered partners of city employees receive health and retirement benefits.

The San Francisco ceremony comes as the state Senate considers legislation prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Although no state has yet approved homosexual unions, a court case pending in Hawaii could legalize such marriages.