Montana same-sex couples exchange vows after gay marriage ban tossed

Ben Bahnsen, left, puts a wedding ring on husband, Patrick Donnelly, as Unitarian minister Nina Grey officiates their marriage on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, at the Gallatin County Law and Justice Center in Bozeman, Mont. Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, (AP)

Ben Bahnsen, left, puts a wedding ring on husband, Patrick Donnelly, as Unitarian minister Nina Grey officiates their marriage on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, at the Gallatin County Law and Justice Center in Bozeman, Mont. Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, (AP)

Ben Bahnsen, left, puts a wedding ring on husband, Patrick Donnelly, as Unitarian minister Nina Grey officiates their marriage on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, at the Gallatin County Law and Justice Center in Bozeman, Mont.

Carolyn Burgess, left, and Ally Logan kiss at the Clerk of Court's desk as they get their marriage license at the Missoula County Courthouse Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in Missoula, Mont. Kurt Wilson, The Missoulian (AP)

Carolyn Burgess, left, and Ally Logan kiss at the Clerk of Court’s desk as they get their marriage license at the Missoula County Courthouse Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014, in Missoula, Mont.

Updated: 10:00 p.m. MST

BILLINGS, Mont. — As they stood linking arms and holding bouquets, Linda Gryczan and Constance Enzweiler of Helena married Thursday after waiting 31 years.

They were the first same-sex couple in the city to legally wed after a federal judge overturned Montana‘s ban on same-sex marriage the day before.

“We’ve been married for 31 years in our hearts. The next 31 we’ll be married in the state,” Gryczan said.

Gryczan has a history with Montana gay rights issues. She was the lead plaintiff in a 1995 lawsuit challenging a separate state law that made gay sex illegal. That led to the unanimous 1997 Montana Supreme Court decision that ruled the law unconstitutional.

She had kind words Thursday for two plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to Wednesday’s ruling on the voter-approved ban. Adel Johnson and Sue Hawthorne were married in Washington state but came to the courthouse to celebrate.

“Thank you, thank you, for sticking your necks out,” Gryczan told them.

Former Montana Supreme Court Justice James C. Nelson married Gryczan and Enzweiler and said he supports the ruling by U.S. District Judge Brian Morris to throw out the ban, calling it a stain on the state’s constitution.

“I can’t tell you how big a decision that is,” he said. “It basically says that gay people have the same rights as everybody else, as they always should have.”

Statewide, 47 same-sex couples from 13 counties received marriage licenses Thursday, said Jon Ebelt with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

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Randi Paul and Jill Houk of Billings lined up for theirs before dawn at the Yellowstone County Courthouse. Less than two hours later — and just minutes after paying $53 for a license — they wed in a courthouse hallway as friends, supporters and members of the media crowded around.

For Paul, a 28-year-old legal assistant, the occasion marked the realization of a dream of getting married in her home state.

“I’m a super Montanan. That’s a big part of who I am. The prospect of getting married somewhere else was upsetting,” she said.

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