"I feel so happy," said Vickery, a 44-year-old attorney. "It's so much more emotional than I expected."
Gay marriage is legal now only in Connecticut and Massachusetts. The unions were legal in California until a statewide referendum to ban gay marriage narrowly passed last week. The vote has sparked protests and several lawsuits asking that state's Supreme Court to overturn the prohibition.
The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled 4-3 on Oct. 10 that same-sex couples have the right to wed rather than accept a civil union law designed to give them the same rights as married couples.
Some of the eight couples who had challenged a state law prohibiting gay marriages last month wept as Judge Jonathan Silbert entered his judgment that opened the way to the issuance of licenses.
"Today, Connecticut sends a message of hope an inspiration to lesbian and gay people throughout this country who simply want to be treated as equal citizens by their government," said the plaintiff's attorney, Bennett Klein.
The first license, issued in New Haven, went to plaintiffs Robin Levine-Ritterman and Barbara Levine-Ritterman, who have been together since 1989. Hundreds of people outside city hall applauded as Barbara Levine-Ritterman proudly held up the license.
"It's thrilling today. We are all in one line for one form. Love is love, and the state recognizes it," she said.
Peg Oliveira, 36, a yoga teacher and educational consultant, and Jennifer Vickery, a 44-year-old lawyer, planned to wed on the New Haven green Wednesday. They have a 3-month-old baby.
"We're thrilled and we don't want to wait one minute," she said earlier. "I want to show the folks who worked so hard to make this possible that we are very grateful and we don't want to wait any longer to be able to say the words `We are married."'
Manchester Town Clerk Joseph Camposeo, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, said clerks in the state's 169 communities were advised by e-mail shortly after 9:30 a.m. they could start issuing the licenses.
"The feedback I'm getting from other clerks is that we're all at the ready, but no one really has a sense yet of what kind of volume we're going to get," he said.
According to the state public health department, 2,032 civil union licenses were issued in Connecticut between Oct. 2005 and July 2008.
The health department had new marriage applications printed that reflect the change. Instead of putting one name under "bride" and the other under "groom," couples will see two boxes marked "bride/groom/spouse."
Constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage passed last week in Arizona and Florida, and Arkansas voters approved a measure banning unmarried couples from serving as adoptive or foster parents.
However, Connecticut voters last week rejected the idea of a constitutional convention to amend the state's constitution, a major blow to opponents of same-sex marriage.
The Family Institute of Connecticut, a political action group that opposes gay marriage, condemned the high court's decision as undemocratic. Peter Wolfgang, the group's executive director, acknowledged banning gay marriage in Connecticut would be difficult but vowed not to give up.
"Unlike California, we did not have a remedy," Wolfgang said. "It must be overturned with patience, determination and fortitude."
The state's 2005 civil union law will remain on the books, at least for now. Same-sex couples can continue to enter civil unions, which give them the same legal rights and privileges in Connecticut as married couples without the status of being married.