Gay couples in Massachusetts nervously anticipate marriage
Massachusetts couples anxious over marriage
With last-minute court battles in play and religious organizations mobilizing their opposition forces, many gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts are holding their collective breath as the May 17 deadline legalizing same-sex marriage approaches.
The flowers are ordered, and the wedding cakes are ready, but Massachusetts's lesbian and gay couples are still holding their collective breath before any of them exchange their legal "I dos" next week. "With all the political pulling back and forth over gay marriage, emotions are really tense right now," said Malea Fleming, who runs a downtown Northampton flower shop with her partner, April Fleming. "But on Monday, when people breathe out and realize they really can get married, Northampton is going to explode with a lot of happy and positive energy."
Ever since the state's highest court ruled in November that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed, Gov. Mitt Romney has battled to prevent gay marriage, the state legislature has taken the first step toward trying to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage, and conservative groups have gone to state and federal courts looking to undo the supreme judicial court's landmark ruling. But so far the ruling stands, and gay and lesbian couples in the state are counting down the days until they can get married, making Massachusetts the only place in the country where they can legally tie the knot. "Nobody really trusts yet that this will last," said Mark Carmien, owner of the Pride & Joy gift shop in Northampton, which caters to a predominantly gay clientele. "A lot of people think the next few weeks are just a window before Romney does something to stop the marriages from happening."
Despite the political jitters, many in Northampton, a college town with a large lesbian population located about 90 miles west of Boston, say they're excited about walking into City Hall at 8:30 a.m. on May 17, when clerk Wendy Mazza will begin issuing marriage license applications. Whether everyone will be able to get one, though, was a bit iffy on Thursday morning. "The state only sent us 50 forms this week," Mazza said. "I'm pushing them to overnight us more." Expecting people to line up in front of City Hall as early as 5 a.m., Mazza will be setting up shop in the city council chambers on Monday to give her staff more space to accommodate couples coming in for their marriage license applications. And instead of the usual 4:30 p.m. closing time, City Hall will be open an extra two hours.
Carmien and his partner, Steve Lucas, will be handing out mimosas to the couples in line, and the Fleming's flower shop will be supplying 10 dozen roses to decorate the city council room. Same-sex couples elsewhere in the state also are expecting warm welcomes at city halls. In Provincetown, couples are expected to start lining up over the weekend, while Cambridge is planning a Sunday night celebration as a precursor to the midnight opening of the clerk's office. And in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino will shake hands with some of the couples as they show up at City Hall to apply for marriage licenses. "My dads are getting married, and I'm so excited," said Julie Cavenaugh, 34, of Northampton, who was picking out a wedding card for her parents at Carmien's shop. "They've been together for 33 years, and I can't wait for them to go to City Hall on Monday."
But the first-in-line spot is being reserved for Gina Smith and Heidi Norton, the Northampton parents of two boys and one of the seven couples who filed the lawsuit ruled on by the supreme judicial court. "The boys have nice suits to put on, and we'll just have to encourage them to finish their oatmeal so we can be at City Hall on time," Smith said. "It's going to be such a wonderful day. I get to stand up in front of my community in
Northampton and say over and over again how much I love Heidi Norton." After picking up the application for a marriage license, Smith and Norton, both 39, plan to ask a probate court judge to waive the usual three-day waiting period. They plan to get married in a small, private ceremony at their house later that afternoon. "We're doing something in private because we shared a lot about our lives in the media and with the community in the last three years," Smith said. "This feels like a special moment we want to hold close to our hearts."
Others aren't in as much of a rush but are also planning scaled-down weddings. Some already have had commitment ceremonies, exchanging vows before friends and family; others are taking the time to plan huge functions but want to get the legal paperwork done beforehand. "I'm meeting with couples who have been together for so long, but they've never thought about getting married because a lot of us never thought we'd ever have the opportunity," said J. Mary Sorrell, a justice of the peace who has 15 gay and lesbian weddings booked through the end of May and seven more over the summer. "We've had to create our own sense of commitment and our own sense of family, and many of us have already had ceremonies where we've committed to our partners. This just makes it legal."