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August 30 2008


Steve Giegerich



Same sex couple says I do online



St. Louis — As recently as late July, Crystal Peairs and April Breeden still envisioned little more than a late summer vacation to Northern California, their days spent on hiking trails, their evenings relaxing before a campfire.

Then a California Supreme Court ruling, combined with the opportunities afforded by cutting-edge technology, changed the itinerary.

Before friends and family on Friday, Breeden and Peairs were married in the wedding chapel in the San Mateo County courthouse.

Breeden's parents, who flew out from Indiana, were there for the same-sex marriage.

The rest of the guests were thousands of miles away in St. Louis, witnesses to a remote webcast that represented a 21st-century cultural and technological plunge into marriage.

With the technology of webcasts, gay couples are not only able to travel to states like California for same-sex unions, but can broadcast those nuptials back home — bringing the ceremonies to states where they are banned.

"I could not have imagined any of it even five years ago," said Scott Adelson, a friend of the couple's.

The Lafayette Square resident fed the ceremony from a computer onto a wide-screen television so he could watch it with his wife, Heather, and 4-year-old daughter, Margaret. Blake Adelson, 1-month-old, will presumably be informed of his presence at a later date.

Actually, the technological piece has been in place for more than a decade.

San Mateo began offering live webcasts as a free option to out-of-town couples taking their vows in the county's wedding chapel in 1999.

The rise in the number of couples taking the county up on its offer increased along with the public's comfort with advancing online technology, said Theresa Rabe, the deputy assessor-county clerk-recorder.

"It really started to take off around 2003," said Rabe. "It's amazing to think now that five or six years ago people didn't understand what (webcasting) was."

Today, 40 percent of the marriages performed in San Mateo are beamed across the country and, indeed, around the world.

California's recent Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriages has opened up webcast marriages to gay couples from distant states. The ruling was the latest chapter in a long-standing cultural, legal and religious battle over the definition of marriage.

For Breeden and Peers, the ruling led the couple to rethink their vacation plans in California.

Three weeks before their departure, Peairs proposed that — in addition to hiking and camping gear — she and Breeden pack a tuxedo and a wedding dress.

The question was a mere formality for a couple that pledged themselves to one another 13 years ago while both were students at Bethany College in West Virginia. In 2000, they moved their relationship to another level at a mass commitment ceremony during a gay rights rally in Washington.

Partners as well in the Lafayette Square Chiropractic Center — Peairs meets with patients, Breeden handles the business side — the couple decided on a ceremony in San Mateo only after learning the first two courthouses on their list, San Francisco and Marin County, were booked.

The free webcast was an unexpected perk.

Lisa Stillman, a fellow Lafayette Square business owner and friend, quickly accepted her e-mailed invitation to the event.

"It's the next best thing to being there," said Stillman, the owner of GardenWalk Massage Therapy.

Stillman joined fellow guests Anne Childers and Isabelle Shaw at Shaw's Compton Hills home to view the wedding webcast.

"They've been committed to each other for all these years," Stillman said. "Now, to have an opportunity to celebrate that commitment with the time honored tradition of marriage is very special."

At 4:12 p.m. Central Standard Time (2:12 on the West Coast) the officiant in San Mateo pronounced April Breeden and Crystal Peairs "married in the State of California."

More than 2,000 miles away, Stillman, Childers and Shaw raised flutes of champagne and toasted their friends, tiny figures on a Gateway laptop.

In the eyes of the state of Missouri, Peairs and Breeden are not married, someone pointed out. Because of Missouri's voter-approved gay marriage ban, the union will be null and void once the couple steps off the plane at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport next week.

"That doesn't matter," said Childers. "To us, they are." | 314-340-8172