Champagne corks popped and confetti continued to swirl on Tuesday in Massachusetts, even though opponents of same-sex marriage declared that they will still support attempts to ban such unions. "The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges," said President Bush, renewing his support for a proposed constitutional ban that has been introduced in Congress.
James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian lobbying group Focus on the Family, said his group would throw all of its weight behind the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution. "We will look back 20, 30, 50 years from now and recall this as the day marriage ceased to have any real meaning in our country," he said. "The documents being issued all across Massachusetts may say 'marriage license' at the top, but they are really death certificates for the institution of marriage as it has served society for thousands of years."
There is no official count, but surveys of the largest cities and towns in Massachusetts showed that upward of 1,000 same-sex couples sought applications for marriage licenses on Monday, the first day such licenses were available.
Many of the couples who obtained marriage licenses paid a fee to waive the normal three-day waiting period and exchanged vows as quickly as feasible. Ceremonies ranged from a simple procedure at City Hall to elaborate church weddings, complete with champagne, cake, and bridesmaids. "This amazing day has finally arrived," said the Reverend Mykel Johnson, who married Gloria Bailey and Linda Davies on Cape Cod's Nauset Beach. "Your actions here have opened the doors for marriage to all gay and lesbian couples."
For all their elation, the couples who received marriage licenses still face uncertainty. Massachusetts lawmakers have taken initial steps toward letting voters decide in 2006 whether to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages and instead allow civil unions. It is not known how the marriages taking place between now and 2006 will be recognized if the ban is imposed. "All along, I have said an issue as fundamental to society as the definition of marriage should be decided by the people," said Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, an opponent of gay marriage.
Robyn Ochs, who wept with joy during her marriage ceremony with partner Peg Preble in Brookline, said the idea that their marriage might be invalidated "makes me nauseous.... But that's not something I want to think about today, because today is a day for love. It's not a day for thinking about hateful people or people that don't get it."
The Massachusetts newlyweds are now entitled to hundreds of rights under state law, such as health insurance, hospital visitation, and inheritance rights. But the couples still lack federal rights because the federal government does not recognize their unions.
In many towns across the country, gay rights advocates held rallies on Monday celebrating the events in Massachusetts. Elsewhere, foes of gay marriage said more states should join those that have already amended their constitutions to deny recognition of same-sex unions forged in other states.
In Provincetown, a gay tourist spot at the tip of Cape Cod, two men from Anniston, Ala., were first in line outside the Town Hall. "This is the most important day of my life," said Chris McCary, 43. In the lesbian-friendly college town of Northampton, fourth- through sixth-graders from the Solomon Schechter Day School came to City Hall to witness history in the making. "It would be ridiculous not to take advantage of this opportunity," said sixth-grade teacher Becky Lederman. Outside the City Hall Annex, couples hugged, took each other's photos, and indulged in cookies and mimosas. Some held "We are getting married" balloons; about a dozen lesbians gathered under an American flag and sang "Going to the Chapel."
On the campaign trail, Massachusetts senator John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, who has said he does not support same-sex marriage, was asked by a Portland, Ore., television station if he would attend a gay marriage ceremony if invited by someone close to him. "I would never reduce the happiness of any two people in life who find whatever way it is that they privately believe makes them happy and fulfills their needs and rewards them as human beings," he said. "I've been to a commitment ceremony when it was a commitment ceremony. Would I respect my daughter or my stepson or anyone who came to me and said, 'This is who I am'? Of course I would. I'd love them."