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May 18, 2004

Survey finds women in majority on first day of gay marriage

Angela Giudice walked out of Boston City Hall while holding up her marriage license to her partner Nia-Sue Mitchum (right, walking behind her).

Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff

Angela Giudice walked out of Boston City Hall while holding up her marriage license to her partner Nia-Sue Mitchum (right, walking behind her).

Two-thirds of the gays who applied for marriage licenses yesterday were women, half of the couples had been together for at least a decade, and an enormous majority were Massachusetts residents, a Globe survey of 752 couples in 11 cities and towns found.

The survey of the men and women who waited in line from Provincetown to Springfield and many towns in between found that one-third of the applicants had children living with them. Forty percent of female couples said they had children in their households, compared with 12 percent of the male couples.

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After a rancorous back-and-forth over whether out-of-state couples should be allowed to wed here, 90 percent of the couples surveyed said they lived in Massachusetts. But that varied by community.

In Provincetown, where town officials had signaled they were willing to issue licenses to out-of-state couples, 34 percent of the couples surveyed said that neither applicant was a resident. Somerville and Worcester, also open to out-of-state couples, were next with 27 percent of the couples from elsewhere.

By contrast, the Massachusetts residency rate among couples was 100 percent in both Arlington and Brookline, followed by Boston and Cambridge, each with 98 percent; Newton, 97; and Northampton, 96.

Governor Mitt Romney has told city and town clerks to follow a 1913 law that would bar same-sex couples who don’t reside in Massachusetts from getting licenses. But the law doesn’t require the clerks to ask for proof.

The median age of those surveyed was 43, and they ranged in age from 19 to 75. The median length of their relationships was 10 years, with the longest being 49 years and the shortest only a few months. Thirty percent of the women, compared with 19 percent of the men, said they had once been in a heterosexual marriage. Twelve percent of the couples said they had been in a civil union together.

“For me, it’s just a confirmation of what we’ve been doing all along,” said Nancy Azar, 43, who got in line at Boston City Hall at 5 a.m. yesterday with her partner of eight years, J. Conlon, 41, of Boston.

The couple were atypical in one sense: They will be married in a civil service at home in Roslindale on Saturday, but they will follow it with a religious ceremony this fall at Hope Church, a United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ Church in Jamaica Plain. Only 33 percent of those surveyed said they planned a religious ceremony, a figure that largely reflects the fact that many denominations have said they will not recognize same-sex unions. Of those, the largest group was headed to a Unitarian Universalist service.

The Globe survey reflected findings by other surveys that have shown lesbians are more likely than gay men to be in long-term relationships and they are more likely to have children.

Though 70 percent said they did not have children living with them, 30 percent said they did. That is a higher number than the 22 percent of Massachusetts same-sex couples who reported having children in the 2000 US Census.

Gary Gates, a demographer at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., and the author of the recently published “Gay and Lesbian Atlas,” said the results of the Globe survey largely correspond to what researchers already know about the gay and lesbian community in Massachusetts and the nation as a whole.

While in New York and California about 54 percent of same-sex couples are male, the reverse is true in Massachusetts, a statistic that probably contributed to the relatively high number of female couples seeking licenses yesterday. Gates also noted that 29 percent of Bay State lesbian couples have children, compared with 18.6 percent of same-sex male couples.

“To the extent that people associate marriage with children, and the stability that marriage provides when you’re raising children, you might see women more likely to be getting married, because the female couples are more likely to have the children,” Gates said.

The desire to provide security for children was a common theme among the parents who married yesterday. The Globe survey found 403 children whose parents applied for licenses to be married.

April Clark, a Worcester stay-at-home mother of 1-year-old Samantha, said marrying her partner, Jill Liske, would finally make their marriage official. “We’ve been married for five years,” she said, recalling a commitment ceremony they held in Nebraska in front of their families. Still, she said, the new legality of the marriage matters. “You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. It’s a big step for homosexual rights and for Samantha, the safety of our family, and finally getting it all knitted together.”

Julia Emond and Tracey Parkin showed up in Worcester City Hall in white flowing pantsuits and corsages with their daughters, Brittany, 9, and Brianna, 6, to make their family “legitimate.”

“We felt a sense of urgency,” said Emond, of Worcester. “We wanted to do this before it got taken away.”

But in explaining yesterday’s male-female disparity, Gates also cited another statistic: According to national surveys, 43 percent of lesbians are “coupled” at any one time, compared with 23 percent of men.

To conduct the survey, the Globe sent reporters to 11 cities and towns: Boston, Northampton, Cambridge, Somerville, Springfield, Arlington, Newton, Worcester, Brookline, Barnstable, and Provincetown. They asked 11 questions of couples who waited in lines, beginning after midnight in Cambridge and continuing to the closure of clerks’ offices in the afternoon.

Maria Cramer, Emily Shartin, Lisa Kocian, Yvonne Abraham, Stephanie Ebbert, and Douglas Belkin of the Globe staff, and Globe correspondents Matthew Rodriguez, Kevin Joy, Kellyanne Mahoney, Brendan McCarthy, Michael Busack, Christina Pazzanese, Gretchen Weber, Matt Viser, Christine MacDonald, Adam Krauss, Heather Allen, Emma Stickgold, and Jared Stearns contributed to this report.
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