CAMBRIDGE — City Manager Richard Rossi remembers the line that stretched out from the front steps of City Hall just before midnight struck on May 17, 2004.
At that moment, Massachusetts was the only state in the United States to grant same-sex marriage licenses, and Cambridge began doling out applications for them as quickly as possible. The city was the location for the first such union in the nation.
Eleven years later, the same right to marry is being extended to couples across the country.
“This verifies everything Cambridge believed in back in 2004,” Rossi said Friday, just after the US Supreme Court released its historic 5-4 decision. “Hopefully this decision puts this issue to rest, so people can move on with their lives and make decisions they want to make about who they want to be with. As a community we are really happy for those who wanted this.”
Rossi, who was deputy city manager in 2004, recalled the chaos on the front lawn of City Hall on the first day.
“The mayor had to get up on a step ladder with a megaphone,” asking people to form lines, he said. “It was really quite an event.”
On that early morning there were 270 applications for marriage intentions filed. There were 90 male couples, 174 female couples, and six heterosexual couples hoping to tie the knot. It was all-hands on deck for city workers, who showed up in droves to help move the process along smoothly.
Once their applications were filled out, many couples dashed off to probate court to receive a waiver from a judge so that they could skip the typical three-day waiting period to say “I do.”
The city officiated nuptials later that same morning.
“I think in this world there is so much hate. But what I saw in those couples was an over abundance of love,” said Donna Lopez, now city clerk, who was there for the first marriages. “If I had my druthers ... I would choose this all the time.”
Margaret Drury, who was city clerk at the time, doesn’t remember how many couples she wed in 2004 — it was too long ago. But she said she’ll never forget the atmosphere that emanated from the building, and spilled onto the lavish green lawn.
“There was so much joy,” Drury said. “I don’t think anyone involved in organizing everything that day will ever forget that.”
Mayor David Maher certainly won’t. Cambridge played a role in getting the entire country to look at the issue of marriage equality through a different lens, he said.
Maher wasn’t sure what to expect coming into work that morning. As he parked his car around the corner from City Hall, and began walking toward the building, he suddenly heard a swell of celebratory voices.
“We knew there was going to be a crowd, but we were shocked by the size of the crowd,” he said. “It was history in the making. It was almost as if you had popped this balloon that years of people — the advocacy, and the denial and disappointment they had gone through — people took this deep breath, and it happened. It was extraordinary to be a piece of it, and a part of it.”
He said the city will likely never experience anything quite like it again.
“It was extremely emotional,” Maher said.
Sitting on that same lawn Friday, Megan Carras expressed her own excitement about the court’s ruling. She’s been a proud resident of the state for four years.
“One of the reasons I moved to Massachusetts was because of the progressive way of things,” she said. “This is a huge step for the country, and it’s about time ... It’s cool to live in this era where we are actually providing these rights to more and more people.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.