Almost 3,000 same-sex marriage licenses filed in Massachusetts since May 17
November 18 2004 12:00 AM ET
Newlyweds Gail and Betsy Leondar-Wright now walk hand in hand with a greater sense of entitlement.
Rod and Lindel Hart revel in the simple act of checking off the "married" box on applications, even on federal forms that do not recognize their union. "I will never, ever check the 'single' box again," said Rod, 31, of Greenfield, Mass.
Tanya McCloskey feels the full impact of Massachusetts's year-old gay marriage decision when a neighbor asks, "So how's the wife?"
"It's still new to me," said McCloskey, 52, who married Marcia Kadish on May 17, the day the landmark court decision took effect and the wave of same-sex weddings began taking place across the state. "It takes me a minute to answer, and I get a little giggly."
It was a year ago Thursday that the Massachusetts supreme judicial court ruled in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that the state constitution guarantees gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. But the aftershocks are still being felt--in a political upheaval that has been credited with swaying the presidential election, in a cultural battle over the future of matrimony, and in the daily lives of the thousands of couples who took vows they once never believed possible.
An Associated Press review of all 8,158 wedding certificates publicly recorded with the state since May 17 shows that at least 2,980 were filed by same-sex couples in 290 of the state's 351 cities and towns. According to unofficial data compiled by the Registry of Vital Records, 4,266 same-sex marriage certificates have been sent to the agency, but not all have been reviewed or officially recorded.
Of those reviewed by the AP, a full two thirds are female couples, while the rest are male. The bulk came from in-state couples, while the remainder come from 39 states, the District of Columbia, Brazil, Australia, Germany, and New Zealand. The legality of these out-of-state unions depends on whether at least one member of the couple has a residence in Massachusetts or intends to move to the state.
During the first months of same-sex weddings, the state's capital--Boston--was the gay marriage capital, with 407 couples from there exchanging vows. Northampton, a gay-friendly community about 100 miles west of Boston, was second with 99, and Cambridge, Boston's liberal neighbor, was third with 92.
But same-sex marriage was not limited to the state's large cities or gay enclaves. Two couples came from Tolland (population 426), while another came from Middlefield (population 542), both small towns in western Massachusetts. In all, 17 couples came from towns with populations under 1,000.
The numbers in the documents reviewed by the AP reflect the marriages that have been publicly recorded with the state since May 17, not the total that have taken place since then. While marriage has provided concrete benefits to some--lower health insurance payments, rental car savings--it is the simple, intangible joys that many gay couples seem to be savoring a year later: a feeling of acceptance, the hugs of neighbors, the wedding albums they can't seem to get enough of, the special vocabulary of marriage.
"I've been called 'Mrs.,"' said Gail Leondar-Wright, who married Betsy, her partner of 13 years, on May 23. "None of us ever thought we would be called a 'Mrs."'
The most significant marriage perks may not be felt for years, until a spouse enters a nursing home or is rushed to the hospital for surgery. Marriage will entitle them to state financial protections and familial rights, but no federal benefits.
Opponents of same-sex marriage say other long-lasting effects will not be evident until today's children become adults. "Many of us have said that the ramifications of these decisions won't be known for a decade or two, when we can see the impact on children who are taught that either a mom is not necessary or a dad is not necessary," said Ron Crews, the lead crusader against same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress this fall.
Other foes of gay marriage say that they are beginning to see the first rumblings of turmoil in the public schools, where they say teachers who support gay rights now feel freer to impose their beliefs on students. "This is affecting me immediately because my children are in conflict. It's putting my children in turmoil," said Kris Mineau, leader of the conservative Massachusetts Family Institute. "I've always argued that from May 17 onward, my heterosexual marriage was no longer unique, no longer a standard for the culture, and that's an affront to me and it grieves me."
A year after the Goodridge decision, both sides acknowledge that the battle has just begun. "On November 18, 2003, I knew we had a lot of work to do, and that remains true on November 18, 2004," said attorney Mary Bonauto, who represented the gay couples in Goodridge before the high court. "In any struggle for equal rights, there's going to be some place that's the cutting edge, and that place is Massachusetts."
To opponents of same-sex marriage, Massachusetts has become a symbol of all that can go wrong. "What people see in Massachusetts they cannot accept in the heartland of America," said state representative Phil Travis (D-Rehoboth), who proposed a state ban on same-sex marriage. "We're way out of step with the rest of the country."
To gay couples and their supporters, however, Massachusetts has become a haven, a place where McCloskey and Kadish say they now feel comfortable slow-dancing at straight weddings and where strangers rejoiced with the Leondar-Wrights when they learned they could finally become wife and wife. "It feels good that there's somewhere in the United States where it's not a big deal," said Brenda Henson, 59, of Centreville, Miss., who married Wanda, her partner of 20 years, earlier this year in Massachusetts. Her home state was one of 11 that voted in a constitutional ban on gay marriage on November 2, ensuring that her marriage will remain little more than a piece of paper for the time being. "I'd really love to live in Massachusetts," Henson said. "They welcomed us with open arms."