WASHINGTON — Craig Dean's first wedding was attended by thousands, and as he recited his vows, gay couples behind him on Constitution Avenue echoed their own.
It was 1993, and Dean and boyfriend Patrick Gill headlined what was billed as the largest gay marriage ceremony at the time. Dean, 29, and Gill, 26, were celebrities after suing Washington for denying them a marriage license. They'd been on CNN, were profiled in the Washington Post and sat on Oprah's couch.
And though they lost their landmark case, the city last month did what it had refused to do back then: legalize gay marriage.
Dean, who now lives in South Carolina and runs a talent agency for gay and lesbian speakers, said he cried when he read the news.
"They owe me a marriage license," he said.
The law still has to survive a review by Congress, which has final say over the district's laws. Lawmakers appear unlikely to intervene though, so gay couples could be marrying in Washington — legally this time — by March. It would be the sixth place in the country where gay marriages are allowed.
Dean and Gill were not practiced advocates when they applied for a marriage license in November 1990. Dean had just graduated from Georgetown University's law school. Gill worked in the men's accessories department of Macy's, selling pens and umbrellas.
Dean researched the city's laws and was convinced nothing in the code prevented them from getting married. The lawsuit went on five years. Ultimately, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled against the pair.
For Dean, the defeat was personal. For his boyfriend, he believes, it was crippling. Gill had AIDS, and the travel and the pressure of the case affected his health, Dean said.
"He was really holding on in the hopes that we would win," Dean said. "After we lost, he sort of let go."
Gill died in June 1997, just over two years after the decision. He is buried next to Dean's father in a Long Island cemetery.
Dean's current partner, photographer John Blevins, told him he should be proud when the district passed its law last month.
Blevins and Dean met several months ago and on Christmas, Blevins put a ring in Dean's stocking and asked, "Would you do the honor of marrying me?"
"Yes," Dean said, as long as he gets a real Washington wedding.
And he has a message for the marriage bureau: "The first name on the list should be the one who is waiting 20 years."