Gay Couples Line Up for Mass. Marriages
At Midnight, Cambridge Becomes First to Issue State-Sanctioned Licenses
By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 17, 2004; Page A02
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., May 16 -- After months of eager anticipation mixed with nagging worries that this day may never come, gay couples across Massachusetts and beyond converged on Cambridge on Sunday night to apply for the nation's first state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage licenses.
At 12:01 a.m. Monday in this city across the Charles River from Boston, the first of several dozen couples who had lined up outside City Hall in the rain early Sunday was called into a basement corridor to declare their intention to marry.
Marcia Hams, 56, and Susan Shepherd, 52, of Cambridge, who have been together for 27 years, were the first couple to line up, at midnight Saturday, and were the first to apply for a marriage license before a crush of cameras.
"I feel real overwhelmed, real happy," Shepherd said. "I could pass 0ut at this point." Hams and Shepherd plan to marry next Sunday.
By 10 p.m. Sunday, more than 1,000 people -- including couples waiting in line and their supporters throwing rice and confetti -- were gathered outside City Hall, along with fewer than a dozen protesters. At 10:30 p.m., couples began receiving numbers to determine the order in which their applications would be processed, and an hour later 230 couples had passed through the front doors.
The city also organized a celebration, complete with live music and speeches from activists, and a giant wedding cake that was cut after the stroke of midnight.
An interfaithservice called "Blessings on the Eve of History" to commemorate the start of gay weddings was held Sunday evening in Cambridge's Christ Church.
During a sermon praising what he called "the triumph of freedom over oppression," the Rev. Steven Charleston said opponents of gay marriage say it will end civilization as they know it. "Perhaps they're right," he said to wild applause.
After he spoke, Jewish and Christian clergy fanned out to bless dozens of same-sex couples in the pews.
Cambridge Mayor Michael A. Sullivan, whose city was the only one in the state that started the license-application process the minute it became legal, said: "We're a diverse and accepting community, and this is a way to welcome the couples and their families. That's what it's all about. It's not a race. It's about fairness and equality."
The landmark 4 to 3 ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in November deemed unconstitutional a ban on gay marriage. It was stayed for 180 days to give the state time to prepare.
In recent months, a host of challenges to the decision have been beaten back in the courts, including a request for a federal injunction that the U.S. Supreme Court denied Friday. An appeals court will hear the matter in June.
Lawmakers who opposed the SJC's ruling have begun amending the state's constitution to outlaw gay marriage, giving preliminary approval in March to a measure that could be on the ballot by November 2006.
On Monday morning, the state's other 350 city and town clerks will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and weddings will be held throughout the state.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Marcia Hams, left, and Susan Shepherd are the first same-sex couple in Cambridge to fill out an application for a marriage license. "I feel real overwhelmed, real happy," Shepherd said.
(Steven Senne -- AP)