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In San Francisco, ‘I Dos’ Echo Throughout City Hall

On July 2, a heavy fog hung above San Francisco City Hall’s gold-embellished dome. Yet inside there was not a trace of gloom.

Couples posed for photos on the pink-hued stairs on their way to the Rotunda, where volunteer officiants resumed performing civil marriages on June 9. Appointments are booked solid and as coveted as toilet paper once was, but additional slots will be added as Covid restrictions lift, said Diane Rea, the county clerk.

By early afternoon on that July day, the sun had broken through the clouds and newlyweds spilled onto Civic Center Plaza ready for the holiday weekend and all that happens after “I do.”

Benjamin Reid and Lauren Marinaro met in high school in Minnesota, but their relationship didn’t spark until college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I skipped orientation to watch Shark Week, so Lauren picked classes for us,” said Mr. Reid, 32, a biochemist at Quanta Therapeutics in San Francisco. Many of their 13 years together have been long distance as they pursued careers and graduate degrees. Ms. Marinaro, 32, recently completed a M.B.A. from N.Y.U.’s Stern School of Business, and now the couple is now settled in San Francisco. For their photo-worthy departure from the Civic Center, the couple folded into a tiny three-wheeled car. “Lauren always drives,” Mr. Reid said as Ms. Marinaro hiked up her gown and climbed in behind the wheel.

Three years ago, Sammetra Daniels took a stab at online dating. “I was inundated by creeps,” said Ms. Daniels, a 33-year-old Bay Area native who earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from N.Y.U. in 2020. She is now a sales manager in data science and cybersecurity. But one overture was markedly different. “This was from a perfect gentleman — a confident, caring man with character,” she said of Frank Ugbaja 35, a native of Flatbush, Brooklyn, who is now a vice president and branch manager for Citibank in Los Angeles, where the couple live. “From the first date I knew we would marry,” Mr. Ugbaja said. “With Sammetra, I saw my dreams were possible.”

Five years ago, a foray into online dating in Scottsdale, Ariz., led Nancy Preston to Jack Ferry. “Life immediately became more fun,” said Mr. Ferry, 61, who works in automotive finance. Several years later when Ms. Preston, now 50, took a position in Northern California as a traveling nurse, the couple relocated to Santa Rosa, Calif., a move they decided to make permanent. This past May, Ms. Preston’s 23-year-old daughter died from cancer, which brought the couple to legalize a union that had been already been well tested. “We really needed something to celebrate,” said Ms. Preston, wearing an off-the-shoulder gown pinned with a dragonfly brooch, a fitting symbol of transformation.

Maulika Vashishtha and Shivaraj Patil, both 31 and software engineers — she at DoorDash, he at Microsoft — intended to wed in India. But with travel thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic, they decided on the next best thing. The couple met attending graduate school at San Jose State University in 2013 and were friends for several years before cementing their bond. “I knew she was the one and I was willing to go slowly,” said Mr. Patil. Supported by cousins and uncles, the couple chatted via video with their parents in India where it was the middle of the night. “Someday we’ll celebrate in India,” Ms. Vashishtha said wistfully.

In 2012, Allen Tang met Jason Tengco at the White House at a youth leadership conference. Both were in relationships at the time, but in 2015, they reunited at another White House event as singles. They now live in Oakland, Calif. Mr. Tengco works as the White House liaison in the Office of Personnel Management, and Mr. Tang is a health care consultant; both are 33. They were at City Hall to claim their marriage license after their official wedding was the next day on July 3. “Gay marriage started here,” said Mr. Tengco. “This is a meaningful place for us.”

After being set up by friends six years ago, Weina Zhao, 31, and Florian Mayr, 30, both Harvard graduates, built careers in technology in New York City and set down roots in Brooklyn Heights. He is a founder of the software company Mark43; she works in product management for MailChimp. Yet obtaining an appointment for a marriage license at New York city hall proved difficult. Ms. Zhao, who grew up in San Francisco and had fond memories of her high school prom held here at City Hall, floated the idea of a destination wedding for just the two of them. “This is the first place I ever got dressed up,” Ms. Zhao said. “It’s absolutely beautiful.”

When Covid hit, Gretchen Ames and Joe Mann were afraid their legal status didn’t reflect their real commitment. “What if one of us had to go to the hospital?” said Ms. Mann, 51, a lawyer. Seventeen years ago in 2004, the two met on a blind date in Boston; within a year they moved out west together. On the day of their wedding, they walked to City Hall from their San Francisco home in their finery, drawing the attention of passers-by and people at their favorite bodegas. Ms. Ames, 49, who works in early childhood research and policy, said quarantining was tough but that humor carried them through the challenging year. “It was a special kind of test, but Joe passed,” she said, jokingly. Mr. Mann was equally blithe: “Gretchen has wisdom, and I’m an emotional moron,” he said.

“We’ll always have fireworks,” said Leanne Hulme about the decision to wed over Independence Day weekend. Ten years ago, Ms. Hulme, 51, met J.R. Ahn, 52, through work. Though both have careers in technology and finance, helming their blended family of four children has been the bedrock of their relationship success. “My mom is excitable and strong-willed and J.R. makes her calmer,” said Ms. Hulme’s daughter, Katie Hulme, 19. “But she calms him, too,” countered Cait Ahn, the groom’s 15-year-old daughter.

Their wedding was slated for March 19, 2020, but in the days leading up to the date, Lusiana Wainiqolo and Andrew Singh realized a full-blown wedding wouldn’t be possible. “We went numb,” said Ms. Wainiqolo, a supervisor at Borrowed Lenses, rental service for photo and video gear in San Carlos. The pain of undoing their plans hit hard. “It was certainly a tough year,” said Mr. Singh, who works in security services at Allied Universal in South San Francisco. The couple, both 27, met at church 10 years ago while still in high school in San Mateo, a city south of San Francisco. “He’s the quiet, shy type,” said Ms. Wainiqolo with a huge smile, “and I’m not.”

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