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The mundane lobby of San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency Embarcadero may not seem the most romantic spot to make a commitment to a partner, but for Laurie Simonson and Julie Baird the location worked just fine. Of course, it helped that the pair were attending the 21st annual Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom dinner where for $10 couples could register as domestic partners and then celebrate the work of the bar association for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender lawyers. The two met when Simonson, an associate at Gordon & Rees and former five-time chair of the dinner, spoke in a panel Baird helped put together two years ago at Boalt Hall School of Law on being an openly gay lawyer. At the time, Baird was in her first year at Boalt and active with the Boalt Hall Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Caucus. After seeing each other for about the past two years, Simonson asked Baird to become her partner just last month. “I knew BALIF was going to have a place where we could register as domestic partners,” Simonson said. “So I decided that on Valentine’s Day, that I was going to ask her if she would register with me at this dinner.” Baird said yes. The couple was joined a few weeks ago in a packed ballroom by an estimated 750 law students, judges, attorneys and politicians at the Hyatt with the likes of San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne, San Francisco Supervisor Mark Leno, and U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. The revelers dined on mixed greens, spicy chicken and custard fruit tarts with entertainment provided by the gay swing dance troupe, “Swing Tics.” Former chief trial attorney for the San Francisco public defender Jeffrey Adachi and new San Francisco public defender Kimiko Burton were there — they sat at separate tables. Sharon Smith, whose partner Diane Whipple was killed in a now-infamous dog mauling, attended the dinner with her attorney Michael Cardoza. “I was flattered, actually, to be asked to come,” Smith said. Kathryn Kendall of the National Center for Lesbian Rights extended the invitation. Smith said she came “just to help support the people who have been supporting me.” She received a standing ovation. Mary Bonauto, who with two co-counsel won a ruling in Vermont that same-sex couples are entitled to the benefits and protections of marriage, addressed the audience as this year’s keynote speaker. Bonauto remembered some of the quirkier testimonials she heard during the state Legislature’s hearings that resulted in a law granting gay couples the right to civil unions. “Listen, my neighbors are gay people, they mow their yard,” she recalled from a straight person’s testimony. “Let them get married.” While Bonauto said getting hitched through civil unions is still a far cry from marriage — “people don’t sing songs about domestic partnership” — she still gets misty-eyed every time she sees a gay couple take their vows. “I personally still get goosebumps when I’m at a civil union and I hear somebody say … ‘by the power vested in me by the state of Vermont I hereby pronounce you spouses in a civil union.’ “

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