The Party Starts in Cambridge

Midnight licenses give way to crowds the next morning in Boston, across Massachusetts

Two days before Massachusetts made history by becoming the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, state Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston, offered a prediction to a crowd of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens and their supporters attending Boston’s Youth Pride celebration.

“I will guarantee this to you all,” said Rushing, a staunch supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples. “The sun will rise on [May 17]. Before you go anywhere on [May 17], look in your refrigerators. Your milk will not be curdled.”

One would be hard-pressed to survey the Commonwealth’s milk supply, but on May 17 the sun did indeed rise, and an overcast morning gave way to a warm spring day as same-sex couples across the state descended on city and town halls to exercise their constitutional right to marry.

Cambridge got a jump on the marriage festivities on May 16 with a late-night City Hall celebration that drew easily the largest crowd of aspiring spouses, friends, and assorted well-wishers in the state. Originally billed by city officials as a champagne and cake reception, the event swelled into a full-blown same-sex marriage block party. The more than 5,000 attendees began amassing in the early evening and filled surrounding streets, prompting police to temporarily close Massachusetts Avenue, the city’s main street, to give them room.

When City Hall opened its doors shortly after 10 p.m., those who managed to make it inside found the building decked out in wedding drag, with staircases wrapped in white tulle accented with large bows. The crowd poured into the City Council chamber, spilling into the gallery overlooking the well. One lesbian couple carried a sign that read, “Civil Rights and Silverware.”

Mayor Michael Sullivan, who presided over the celebration, welcomed couples and their supporters to City Hall.

“It is truly a day to celebrate,” he said. “It is a day to celebrate the immense commitment that couples make to each other: to take one another in unconditional commitment, on good days and in bad, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, for the rest of their lives. It is a day to recognize the … commitment of oneself to something greater than oneself.”

Among those on hand to mark history was Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) attorney Mary Bonauto, who successfully litigated the Goodridge case that paved the way for same-sex marriages in Massachusetts. Also in attendance were state and city officials such as Cambridge’s out gay state senator, Jarrett Barrios.

The crowd in the chamber was serenaded by the Boston Women’s Rainbow Chorus and the Cambridge Community Chorus, who charmed the crowd with a cover of the Beatles’ classic “Can’t Buy Me Love.” When the seconds until midnight were counted down, deafening cheers erupted inside and outside City Hall.

The celebration kicked into high gear when couples began exiting City Hall brandishing the white cards signifying that they had completed applications for marriage licenses. Well-wishers formed a wedding gauntlet on either side of the walkway in front of the building, and as each couple exited they were greeted by the exuberant throng, which urged them, “Kiss! Kiss!” Most of the couples were happy to oblige. The festivities continued until about 4 a.m.

Glen Blair of West Roxbury and Conrad Cardenas of Roslindale took in the surreal scene from Mass. Ave.

“I’m just fantasizing about what this means to my life,” said Blair. “The state of Massachusetts finally said I’m equal to everyone else. Before today, this wasn’t true. But now I am. It’s incredible.”

A handful of protestors failed to mar the event. Camped out behind a police barricade across the street, the group, disciples of anti-gay Kansas preacher Fred Phelps, was largely ignored.

Enid Watson of the United Church of Christ arrived at City Hall after an interfaith service in Harvard Square.

“I was going to go home, but was caught up in the spirit,” Watson said.

Glancing across the street at the protesters, she said, “I want to be a witness that there is clergy support of gay and lesbian marriages.”

The celebration got underway on the other side of the Charles River later that morning. A smaller but no less enthusiastic crowd gathered on Boston City Hall Plaza starting around 5 a.m. The crowd swelled to nearly 500 people later in the day, but was significantly more subdued than the Cambridge revelers.

For Janet Stathos and Loretta Cardinale, an East Boston couple who arrived at 6 a.m. to snag a spot near the front of the line, the day commemorated a union that has lasted 24 years without legal recognition. The couple married in a religious ceremony in 1980 and have supported each other through a number of trials, including major surgeries for both partners. The most important part of the day, they said, was the sense that the state would finally treat them equally.

“This is history in the making. And I’m out of my closet,” said Stathos.

“Well, we haven’t really been in our closet,” Cardinale added, and both started laughing. “And if society doesn’t accept it, then that’s their problem, and no one else’s.”

John Meunier and Jim Flanagan, a South End couple who in a decade together have become parents to two children, ages four and two, said that their kids barely grasp what a legally recognized marriage means to their dads.

The children “don’t understand that it’s a right we didn’t have that we’re having,” said Flanagan. “They just know that we’re getting married, and they’re happy about it. They want to get married, too. They’re going to marry their stuffed animals.”

The crowd surged towards the doors of City Hall at 9:30 a.m., as the three Boston Goodridge plaintiff couples—Hillary and Julie Goodridge; Ed Balmelli and Mike Horgan; and David Wilson and Robert Compton—exited with their white cards and made their way to Brooke Courthouse to request waivers of the three-day waiting period required to receive a marriage license.

As in Cambridge, the couples were greeted like rock stars by the throng, who shouted “Congratulations!” and “Thank you!” and showered them with bubbles and rice.

A small gang of protestors held signs denouncing same-sex marriage; some protestors shouted at couples leaving City Hall, calling them “sick.” At one point protestors knelt in prayer, surrounded by cameras and same-sex marriage supporters holding rainbow flags.

Same-sex marriage supporters responded with chants of “We’re here! We’re queer! We’re married! Get used to it!”

Also on the morning of May 17, Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone greeted couples outside City Hall. “Are you here to get a marriage license?” he repeatedly asked couples as they approached. “Just go to the second floor. Congratulations.”

The weddings of the seven Goodridge couples, who spent more than three years navigating the courts and the media to win the right to walk down the aisle, reflected both the political and historical significance of the day, and the intensely personal meaning of marriage—that despite the constant presence of camera crews, newscasters, and reporters from around the globe.

Decked out in navy suits with matching red and orange striped ties, David Wilson and Robert Comptom were the first plaintiffs to tie the knot in an 11:30 a.m. ceremony at Boston’s Arlington Street Church. Compton told the crowd that though the couple was married in a religious ceremony in the same church in October 2000, they were now completing the circle.

“Today, three and half years later, after a journey that seemed like a million miles with a million speed bumps, we are about to complete our marriage ceremony,” said Compton. “David and I will reaffirm our vows and Reverend Kim [Crawford Harvie] will sign and finalize our legal civil marriage license and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will finally recognize our family.”

At the Goodridge wedding, a 2 p.m. affair at the Unitarian Universalist Association on Beacon Hill, family friend Amy Domini summed up the intersection of the plaintiffs’ personal lives and the political movement for same-sex marriage. Domini introduced the couple to each other more than 17 years ago.

“You know, one of the few great things about aging is seeing how things turn out,” said Domini, addressing a standing-room-only crowd. “Introduce a couple of people, you maybe encourage them a bit, and what happens? A national crisis.”

Ethan Jacobs is a staff reporter for Boston’s Bay Windows, whose associate editor Laura Kiritsy and staff members R.J. Grubb and J.P. LaFond also contributed to this report.

We also publish:

More from Around NYC