With 10 simple words, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay on gay marriage in California on Friday afternoon in a stunningly swift and surprising turn of events, opening the way for same-sex weddings to resume.

And, they did. Just before 5 p.m., on a day of the unexpected, the Berkeley couple whose case brought down the Proposition 8 ban exchanged vows on live television at San Francisco City Hall.

"By virtue of the power and authority vested in me by the state of California, I now declare you spouses for life," state Attorney General Kamala Harris told the beaming Kris Perry, 48, and Sandy Stier, 50, as hundreds of onlookers cheered.

Their long kiss sealed the dawn of a new era in California history as they became the first couple to wed as same-sex marriages resumed after a freeze of more than four years.

"It represents the conclusion of a really difficult time in California, where thousands of families were excluded from the institution of marriage," Perry said. "It represents the end of a difficult period and the beginning of a unified time."

Their ceremony, and those that followed, came after a brief ruling issued by the appellate court:"The stay in the above matter is dissolved immediately" -- an order that caught everyone off guard around the state, including the county clerks in charge of issuing marriage licenses.


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A landmark Supreme Court ruling Wednesday on Proposition 8 had set the stage for the gay weddings to begin again. But the only question was when. Under high court rules, the losing side has 25 days to ask that the case be reheard, which is why legal experts predicted that same-sex marriages wouldn't start until sometime next month.

Instead, the court of appeals immediately dissolved the stay Friday -- shortly before county clerks' offices closed. In San Francisco, the wedding of initial plaintiffs Perry and Stier launched a joyous scene as people stood in a long line until 8 p.m. to get their marriage licenses and then hurried to the City Hall rotunda, where deputized officials performed one ceremony after another.

But in Oakland, only four couples were able to rush to the Alameda County clerk's office in time to get licenses. Two of them got married right away. Shortly after 5 p.m., Lulu Cook, 40, and Julie Cook, 39, of Oakland, tied the knot as their daughter, Acelyn, 12, looked on.

"We wanted to get it done before they changed their minds again," Lulu Cook said. "We were going to walk the dogs, but we decided to do this instead."

Right behind them, holding both hands as they faced each other, were Jason Ranieri of Oakland and Elmer Balingi of San Francisco.

"This is a great day," said Jason's mother, Charlotte Ranieri, as tears fell down her cheeks.

But in other Bay Area counties, like Santa Clara and Contra Costa, the expected crush will have to wait until Monday morning.

The Santa Clara County Clerk-Recorder's Office did not issue any licenses after county lawyers gave them the go-ahead just before closing Friday. But they are expecting a different story Monday.

Clerk-Recorder Gina Alcomendras said they will have 27 windows ready to issue licenses on Monday morning. They also will offer a "special express service" for ceremonies.

"If the applicants want to get married right after they get the license, we will be able to do it right there, at the window," Alcomendras said.

All this started Wednesday when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the sponsors of the voter-approved gay marriage ban lacked the standing to appeal a decision to invalidate Proposition 8 once Gov. Jerry Brown and Harris refused to do so. The decision let stand a trial judge's declaration that the ban violates the civil rights of gay Californians and cannot be enforced.

Since then, county clerks from around the state had been waiting for the signal to begin issuing marriage licenses for the first time since 2008, when same-sex weddings were allowed briefly. It has been estimated that 37,000 same-sex couples are ready to get married.

After the ruling, Brown declared that licenses be issued immediately.

As the news spread like wildfire Friday, it also elicited an angry reaction from the official Proposition 8 proponents who called it a "disgraceful day for California," saying that the decision to allow the resumption of same-sex marriages in California had been rushed.

"This outrageous act tops off a chronic pattern of lawlessness, throughout this case, by judges and politicians hellbent on thwarting the vote of the people to redefine marriage by any means, even outright corruption," said Andy Pugno, general counsel for the ProtectMarriage.com Coalition, in the statement.

"The resumption of same-sex marriage this day has been obtained by illegitimate means. If our opponents rejoice in achieving their goal in a dishonorable fashion, they should be ashamed."

But the 9th Circuit's decision did not surprise Rory Little, a professor at the UC Hastings School of Law.

"I've been saying for three days they should just start marrying people immediately," Little said.

And elsewhere around the state, there was unrestrained joy as the parade of marriages began.

In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, on his last day in office, presided over the marriage of Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo, the other plaintiffs who successfully challenged Proposition 8.

Back in San Francisco, the ruling came during the city's annual Pride week and even further energized the mecca for gay rights. Harris seemed to capture the history of the moment as she addressed Perry and Stier, parents of four sons.

"They have waited, hoped and fought for this moment," Harris said. "Today, their wait is finally over."

Matthias Gafni and Katie Nelson contributed to this report.