In the weeks leading up to Election Day, Joseph Smith asked his partner of 24 years what he wanted to do if Maryland voters approved same-sex marriage.
“When it passes, we’ll talk about it,” Don Starr, a George Mason University professor, told Smith, the first openly gay member of the Havre de Grace City Council.
The prospect of marrying is no longer a maybe. Over dinner Wednesday, Starr looked across the table at Smith and said, matter-of-factly, “I guess we’ll talk about it now.”
Practical discussions of whether and when to marry are now underway in many of the Maryland households in which, census statistics show, 12,500 same-sex couples already form a family.
Some couples already were legally wed in the District or the handful of states where gay marriage is legal. Other long-standing couples united in commitment ceremonies. Many are now considering intimate civil weddings to ensure that they have the legal protections that marriage affords.
Same-sex weddings are unlikely to cause a rush to the circuit court clerk’s offices on Jan. 2, the day after the law takes effect, when marriage certificates will be issued. But they almost certainly will become more common. Studies suggest that half the same-sex couples living together when gay marriage becomes legal will marry within three years.
Jason Gedeik and Evan Glass plan to get a marriage license just after New Year’s Day, even though they committed to each another before 120 people three years ago at Woodend Sanctuary in Chevy Chase.
“To our friends, family and neighbors, we are a married couple,” said Glass, 35, a communications consultant. “But legally, our marriage has been invisible. There is something to be said for living in a society where the laws recognize your relationship. We hope that with the civil- marriage law, we will be a visibly married couple.”
Boe Ramirez and German Roa both come from devout Latino Christian families. They never expected a public wedding and decided to buy rings a decade ago on a weekend in the New York countryside. That night over dinner, they held “a private ceremony,” committing to one another.
Their lives began to braid together. They moved to Washington and bought a house in Rockville. Cats soon joined their home.
“We have rings, so people would always ask: ‘Are you married?’ ” Ramirez said. “And there was always this weird pause. We realized we want to be married. We look at our bank accounts and bills, and God forbid if something happened to one of us, would the other automatically be taken care of?”
But Ramirez, who does human-resources contracting for the federal government, and Roa, who works in hospitality, did not want to wed in the District when it became legal in 2009. They wanted to be recognized in their own community.
“We don’t want to run to get married,” Ramirez said. “I want to walk to the church at the end of the block. We want to get married in the state where we live.” And they want it traditional, down to the proposal.
“Before Election Day — and now — people ask: ‘Are you going to get married?’ ” Ramirez said. “We say ‘Yes,’ but then we smile at one another over the ‘When?’ Now is the fun part. It’s this game of who gets to propose first.”
In other states, lesbian couples who marry outnumber marrying gay men by two to one, said Gary Gates, a demographer with the Williams Institute at UCLA. Couples with children are much more likely to marry than those without, he said.
Merchants are preparing to cash in on the niche market.
On Wednesday morning, Visit Baltimore, the city’s tourism bureau, put on its Web site a photo showing the hands of two men exchanging wedding rings, under the exultant headline “The People Have Spoken.” It outlines the how-tos of getting a marriage certificate in the city and links to hotels, wedding venues and the city’s LGBT guide to welcoming establishments.
“We were prepared to flip the switch as soon as the returns were in,” said Sam Rogers, Visit Baltimore’s executive vice president.
“It opens up a completely new market to a lot of businesses in the city.”
At Gayweddings.com, an Arlington County-based Web site, page views from Maryland have more than doubled over a year ago, said company president Kathryn Hamm.
Robbie McLean, who specializes in photographing gay couples, got three phone calls on Wednesday alone inquiring about booking his Bayline Studios in Baltimore to take same-sex engagement and wedding photos.
“A lot of folks were just waiting until it finally went to referendum,” he said.
McLean, who has worked many commitment ceremonies over the years, said there can be nuances to photographing a same-sex wedding.
“Some of the guests are not 100 percent thrilled with what’s going on,” he said, recalling the delicacy with which he has approached the parents of some gay couples and tried to coax them into exhibiting the happiness of the day. “You kind of lighten the mood as best you can,” he said.
The Black Walnut Point Inn, run by a gay couple on Tilghman Island on the Eastern Shore, began getting phone calls on Wednesday not only from same-sex couples reserving rooms but also from friends and past guests offering congratulations.
“I think it’s their way of being part of civil rights,” said Bob Zuber, 47, one of the innkeepers. “They’re not gay. But they know people who are.”
Zuber and his partner, Tracy Staples, 45, aim to be the first gay couple to marry on Tilghman Island, though they are contemplating hosting a mass wedding.
“I envision a nice, warm, intimate setting,” said Staples. “Cake, champagne. Definitely something warm. Wool is in fashion, I understand.”
Zuber interjected, saying all that was important was to be comfortable with the location and the guests.
“Stuff like the cake, the dress are not part of the equation,” he said. “Just making sure that friends we’ve known and loved for a long time will be there.”
The measure’s passage does not impact religious ceremonies. Even liberal wings of organized religion, such as the Episcopal Church and Reform Judaism, do not use the word “marriage” for same-sex couples’ unions. They do advocate for civil equality, and clergy are often given permission to bless couples.
Rabbi Esther Lederman of Temple Micah, in Glover Park, said she and other more-liberal rabbis use special liturgy and items created to honor same-sex relationships.
“In some ways, Judaism validated GLBT Jews before the state did,” said Lederman.
She said people are writing to the synagogue’s gay members on its Facebook page: “Now it’s time to find you a husband!”
Joan Beilstein, rector of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Silver Spring, said she didn’t see a rush of weddings after gay marriage became legal in the District, and doesn’t expect one now, since people who wanted to proclaim their commitment may have already done it through ceremonies.
“Marriage is a big commitment. Gay or straight, it’s a big commitment,” said Beilstein, 51, who had a ceremony with her partner in 2006. “Just because it’s legal, you’re not going to see a rush. I wish we were.”
Smith and Starr, who run a stationery store in Havre de Grace, plan to wed in January.
“Initially, we’re thinking we’re going to focus on making it legal,” Smith said.
It will be a small affair, he said, with family and friends. After 24 years together, they don’t need lots of gifts to start a life together. They already feel married, and have worn wedding bands for several years. But they plan a big party next fall to mark a relationship that began and deepened long before society acknowledged it.
“We met in October of 1988,” Smith said. “Getting married is great, but celebrating 25 years together is just as momentous. So we’ll make it official now, and celebrate later on.”