WASHINGTON — The road to same-sex marriages in Maryland made its way through lawmakers in Annapolis, past a divisive statewide referendum in November, and, early on New Year’s Day, to a small inn down a windy spit of land in the Chesapeake Bay, where Ruth Siegel wept as she wed Nina Nethery.
Siegel, a retired graphic artist, and Nethery, a systems analyst, wore matching white suits with sheer white blouses. In the hours before the ceremony, which began at 12:02 a.m. Tuesday, they wore custom baseball caps.
‘‘Bride One,’’ read Siegel’s.
‘‘Bride Two,’’ read Nethery’s.
The pair from Silver Spring were part of the first wave of marriages in the state, which also included early-morning wedding celebrations at Baltimore’s City Hall. Until Election Day on Nov. 6, voters around the country had rejected gay marriage more than 30 times. But Maryland joined Maine in breaking that streak.
‘‘Nina and Ruth, we have heard you promise to share your lives in marriage,’’ said Jen Russell, who works for the Department of Defense and struggled to officiate without choking up. ‘‘By the powers vested in me by the state of Maryland, I declare you legally married!’’
In the hours that followed, the couple donned hand-decorated ‘‘Just Married’’ hats while they sliced an intricate rainbow-colored layer cake and quietly slow-danced and sang to one another.
In their 15 years together, Siegel and Nethery have had three previous commitment ceremonies. But this felt different.
‘‘I didn’t think I was going to make it through that one,’’ said Siegel, 64.
‘‘This is better than I even imagined it could be,’’ said Nethery, 59.
The victory for gay marriage advocates in Maryland was a narrow one, with 52 percent supporting allowing gay and lesbian couples to obtain civil marriage licenses and 48 percent opposing it.
But narrow was more than good enough for Ogden White, a retired Presbyterian minister and Nethery’s brother-in-law, who saw a hard-earned win for civil rights.
‘‘I think of Martin Luther King talking about being a headlight rather than a tail light,’’ White said.
The referendum passed with strong margins in places like Montgomery County and Baltimore, but failed in communities including Prince George’s and Talbot, the Eastern Shore county where Siegel and Nethery joined a handful of other gay and lesbian couples for New Year’s Day weddings at the Black Walnut Point Inn.
Proprietors Bob Zuber and Tracy Staples were also wed, then helped run the show for others, setting an exuberant — at times exultant — tone.
‘‘With the power vested in me by the courageous people of the great state of Maryland, I pronounce you — two men — legally married! You may kiss your husband,’’ Staples declared, as Dwayne Beebe and Jonathan Franqui stood in black-and-white Converse sneakers, jeans, and tuxedo vests — and joyously complied.
Beebe, a naval officer, moved to Florida from Rockville a couple years ago, and he and Franqui are planning a large wedding with family and friends there in March. But gay marriage isn’t legal in Florida, and the couple were eager to give their wedding day in Pensacola a foundation from the Free State.
‘‘We wanted the ceremony on March 30 to be not just two guys saying, ‘I do.’ We wanted it to be a legal marriage,’’ Beebe said.