Laguna Beach’s Mayor Kelly Boyd, who took wedding vows himself three times, for the first time served as a wedding officiate, presiding over a same-sex marriage on Monday, July 29.
The couple, two men who wed on their 51st anniversary of their partnership, were legally united in matrimony as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that effectively authorized same-sex marriage in California.
The ceremony between Wayne Lawrence, who also turned 75 on Monday, and Lee Durler, 76, took place outdoors in the water district’s garden. Witnesses included friends, most of them fellow dog lovers.
“We missed out in 2008 and didn’t think about it,” said Lawrence, referring to a brief period where gay marriages were permitted in the state.
If the law was reversed, the couple, who are both retired, vowed to not miss out again, in part to secure legal protections of marriage, Lawrence said.
After the county clerk told them a city’s mayor has the authority to preside over a civil ceremony, the pair decided to hold off finalizing the documents in order to enlist Boyd, a longtime acquaintance, in formalizing the union.
Unaware he possessed the authority to perform such duties, Boyd nonetheless was excited to take up the role for a same-sex couple, and also earn a footnote in Laguna’s once vibrant but diminished gay community. “My conservative friends might not think so, but I don’t care. It’s been a gay community forever,” Boyd said.
By the ‘70s, when Durler and Lawrence moved here, Laguna was known for its gay and lesbian life, including the now defunct Boom Boom Room nightclub. Laguna’s Bob Gentry became the nation’s first openly gay mayor in 1989. By the ‘90s, Laguna was also known for the county’s highest per capita AIDS death rate. More recently, the younger gay population has migrated to other gay meccas in Palm Springs and Long Beach.
In the ceremony, Boyd read vows that Durler had drafted and put his signature to documents drafted by the county recorder.
Lawrence and Durler, who were classmates at Coachella Valley High School, have been partners since 1962. They both worked as licensed cosmetologists, Lawrence as a salon hairdresser and Duhler as a barber.
The couple registered their domestic partnership with Laguna’s city clerk, but wanted to marry to “cement the relationship legally,” said Lawrence.
A recent experience when Durler was in a Kaiser hospital emergency room made Lawrence more attuned to issues where same-sex partners have not historically enjoyed rights extended to married couples, though physicians did not exclude information from him about his partner’s care. “I figured that Kaiser had an open policy that did not forbid anything,” he said.
Even so, he figures, “the civil marriage ceremony gives you equal footing, the same protections, which prompted us to go ahead.”