More than 1,000 gay and lesbian couples streamed into city and town halls across the state yesterday seeking licenses to marry, as Massachusetts marked the first day of legalized same-sex matrimony.
From the tiny town of Rowley, where a town clerk opened her doors four hours earlier than usual so that a selectman could marry his partner, to Boston, where 99 gay couples were greeted by the mayor and given a wedding cake reception in a tent on City Hall Plaza, the day went smoothly, with few disruptions or protests.
Provincetown received 154 license applications, while Northampton accepted 113. Brookline took in 77, Worcester 72, and Newton 38. Cambridge received 41 applications during daylight hours yesterday, in addition to the 227 accepted during its special first-in-the-state session that began shortly after midnight.
Scores of couples from outside Massachusetts also flocked to the clerks’ offices, especially in cities and towns that had announced their willingness to issue them licenses in defiance of Governor Mitt Romney’s directive that a 1913 law prohibits it.
The status of those out-of-state residents’ marriages was in question yesterday. Attorneys general from Connecticut and Rhode Island issued opinions indicating that gay marriages may be recognized in their jurisdictions, echo ing a statement from New York’s Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. the opinions, while nonbinding, may hasten what many expect to be the next battle over gay marriage, whether the rights granted in Massachusetts have legal force elsewhere.
While most couples arriving at city and town halls yesterday were filling out applications to marry, in Cambridge they had moved to the next stage. The city recorded the nation’s first legal gay marriage when Marcia Kadish, 56, and Tanya McCloskey, 52, of Malden were married shortly after 9 a.m. by Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury. At least 77 same-sex couples were married in the Commonwealth yesterday, according to a Globe survey of several communities.
“Oh, my God, I’m speechless,” said McCloskey, a massage therapist. “I’m so happy right now. This is a dream come true. To stand here in front of all these people makes us nervous but proud.”
“I’m glowing from the inside,” said Kadish. “Happy is an understatement.”
A Boston Globe survey indicated that lesbians accounted for two-thirds of the couples seeking licenses yesterday. The survey found that the median age of applicants was 43, though the ages of the 752 couples surveyed in 11 cities and towns ranged from 19 to 75. Ninety percent of the couples surveyed live in Massachusetts.
At Stoughton Town Hall, Peter Fowler, 29, and his partner, Todd Bouffard, 33, stopped by around 4 p.m. They filled out their application, beneath a Norman Rockwell painting of a man and a woman completing their marriage license paperwork while a crusty clerk looks on.
Bouffard, who works at Suffolk University, said he was excited to see the festivities in Boston on his lunch hour. But he and Fowler wanted to take the big step in their hometown. “It was important to do it here,” Fowler said. “It seems natural to go where you live.”
In Northampton, Joan Williams, 38, and her partner arrived outside the clerk’s office at 4 a.m.
“I just wanted to be in the first 50,” said Williams, 38, a lawyer, who recently moved to Northampton from San Diego specifically to marry.
The rush of same-sex marriages drew national attention from the news media, interest groups, and policymakers. President George W. Bush reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage on the day it became legal, and called again for passage of a federal constitutional amendment banning it.
“The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges,” he said, in a prepared statement. “All Americans have a right to be heard in this debate. I called on the Congress to pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife. The need for that amendment is still urgent, and I repeat that call today.”
US Senator John F. Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, declined to respond to questions about the start of gay marriages in Massachusetts.
At 9 a.m., three of the seven couples who were plaintiffs in the case that led to the Supreme Judicial Court decision granting gays and lesbians the right to marry arrived at the registry office counters at Boston City Hall. Accompanied by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, they were waited on by Registrar Judith A. McCarthy. Each couple went up to the window to apply for their marriage license as a throng of reporters, and ordinary citizens paying parking tickets, looked on.
Julie and Hillary Goodridge, the lead plaintiffs, got their license application first.
“Next to the birth of our daughter, Annie, this is the happiest day of our lives,” said Julie Goodridge, holding back tears.
Hillary Goodridge called the experience “exhilarating. It’s absolutely thrilling. We’re so grateful. . . . It’s overwhelming. I’m so happy.” Asked what she would tell people who oppose gay marriage, she said: “Come on over to our house for dinner and find out how loving and normal and boring we are.”
The couples, surrounded by a fast-moving crush of reporters, walked from City Hall to the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse a block away to get waivers of the required three-day waiting period so they could be issued their licenses to marry yesterday.
By day’s end, all seven plaintiff couples were to be wed.
In Provincetown, a gay vacation mecca, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the advocacy group that argued the Goodridge case, handed out wedding cake, a carrot variety with buttercream frosting generously layered in flower-bud dollops. There were roses for the first 50 couples to receive their certificates. Both the roses and cake were donated by local outfits.
Cheers went up all day as couples emerged from the town hall. “Kiss!” some in the crowd yelled to the couples. Many obliged.
In Somerville, the only city in metropolitan Boston where officials had declared their willingness - even eagerness - to marry same-sex couples from outside Massachusetts, multiple couples from Florida, Maryland, and New York arrived seeking marriage licenses. By late afternoon, the city had taken 37 applications for licenses, seven of which were from out-of-state residents.
While officials in other communities were asking couples whether they live in, or intend to live in, Massachusetts, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone greeted one lesbian couple from Gainesville, Fla., by asking about the fortunes of the University of Florida Gators. And clerks did not blanch as several couples offered out-of-state drivers licenses as identification.
Somerville officials did ask the couples to take an oath that they knew of no impediments to their marriage, and gave them a statement warning that the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics might refuse to accept and record their marriage certificates. But they issued the license applications.
“You don’t interrogate people specially because of the rights they intend to exercise,” said Denise Provost, an alderman-at-large.
Most of the out-of-state couples who applied for licenses said they had never been to Somerville before - some said they had never heard of Somerville - but that they learned over the Internet, by reading newspapers online or visiting gay-themed websites - that city officials there were willing to marry them.
Robin Goldman, 34, and Cris Beam, 32, of Manhattan, came up to Massachusetts on the Chinatown-to-Chinatown bus Sunday afternoon. “As soon as we heard this would be possible, we made plans to come here,” said Beam, a writer.
Goldman, a scientist, said the couple plan to attempt to exercise rights associated with marriage in New York - to file joint taxes, to seek family health insurance, and to file for name changes - and that “if we hit a problem, we’ll deal with it.”