A Milestone for Gays, A Boon for Massachusetts

By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 3, 2008

PROVINCETOWN, Mass. -- The news flashed to Kathy Arminio as an instant electronic bulletin from a gay rights advocacy group: New York Gov. David A. Paterson (D) had issued a directive ordering state agencies to recognize same-sex weddings performed in other jurisdictions.

Within seconds of learning about it in May, Arminio, 51, called Kim Angotti, 38, her partner of six years, with the question she had long wanted to ask: "Do you want to get married?"

Angotti called their friend Robert Schlicker, 30, to spread the news. Schlicker called his partner of more than five years, Michael Oswald, 47, and soon the two couples -- two women and two men, all best friends from Rochester, N.Y. -- were planning to turn an August vacation together into a double marriage ceremony in this nationally renowned gay destination on Cape Cod's northern tip.

Paterson's directive -- extending same-sex marriage rights to such matters as tax returns and pension benefits -- was soon followed by another move here in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage became legal in 2004. In July, the legislature passed a repeal of a 1913 statute prohibiting out-of-state residents from marrying in the state unless they intended to reside here. Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D) signed the repeal at the end of July and took the unusual step of making it effective immediately.

The two steps, taken independently by New York and Massachusetts within about two months, marked an unexpected summer milestone for proponents of same-sex marriage, even as more than 40 other states have enacted constitutional amendments or statutes limiting marriage to a man and a woman. California is the only other state that has legalized same-sex marriage, though that decision by the state's highest court will be subject to a statewide referendum in November.

"I didn't anticipate it happening this fast," Oswald, an analyst for Xerox in Rochester, said of the changes here. "It wasn't even on my radar screen."

He added: "It was just serendipitous."

The recent changes have prompted a flood of gay New Yorkers coming to Massachusetts to get married -- and that seems to have made same-sex marriage big business for the Bay State.

There are no firm figures on how many gays from New York have come here to marry in the few weeks since the law took effect. But anecdotal evidence suggests the numbers are huge and likely to grow. Hotel rooms are full, flower shops are doing a brisk business, and everywhere, it seems, pedicabs adorned with "Just Married" signs are hauling gay couples down the town's main strip.

Justices of the peace, who perform most of the same-sex weddings, say they are booked solid, often racing directly from one ceremony to the next. Claire Watts, who performed the wedding for the four friends from Rochester, said she had presided over 30 gay weddings so far in August, and "the calls just keep coming."

Another justice of the peace, Rachel Peters, said: "I'm really busy. I have a full-time job, and this has become a full-time job." Peters, a police officer, said she had to take extra vacation days to perform all the same-sex weddings for out-of-staters, almost all New Yorkers.

Town Clerk Doug Johnstone said Provincetown has become "the premier destination for gay marriage." He said the town first saw a boom in same-sex weddings after they became legal here in 2004, even though out-of-state couples had to express an intent to reside in Massachusetts -- although how to define that intent was left vague and was often at the discretion of local officials. "Now, with the repeal of the 1913 law, we're seeing another little boomlet," Johnstone said.

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