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Fewer gay couples seek marriage licenses

The number of gay and lesbian couples applying for marriage licenses has slowed to a trickle since a rush to the altar in the days after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts on May 17, according to state records and a Globe survey of large cities and towns.

In the first week after the Supreme Judicial Court decision took effect on May 17, 2,500 gay and lesbian couples applied for licenses; 1,700 have done so in the six months since then, according to unofficial tallies by the Globe and state officials.

In all, the state's Registry of Vital Records has received an estimated 4,266 marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

The City of Boston has experienced a significant slowdown. In the week after May 17, Boston reported 146 same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses, but in the six months since, 345 gay and lesbian couples have applied, an average of 14 a week, according to the Globe's survey.

The story is similar in Cambridge, which opened City Hall doors after midnight May 17 to accept license applicants. During that first week, 310 same-sex couples applied for licenses in Cambridge, the most in the state. But in the months since, only 267 same-sex couples have applied, an average of about 11 a week.

"Now it's just a steady part of our marriage-intentions process," said Margaret Drury, Cambridge city clerk.

The trend has been the same in less popular destinations for gay and lesbian couples seeking licenses.

"It has dropped off considerably since May," said City Clerk Richard Johnson of Lowell, which has had 27 applications from same-sex couples but almost none since the spring. "The majority of those were the first week or two. Now it's slowed to a trickle."

Governor Mitt Romney, an opponent of gay marriage, said yesterday that legal fights over same-sex marriage will continue to play out. One pending legal dispute concerns whether out-of-state couples can marry in Massachusetts.

"The legal challenges that are associated with [same-sex] marriage are associated with people moving from state to state and relating to the rights of children following divorce, and that of course is going to take a number of years before those features will be evaluated, so it's very early for those kinds of matters to be seen," said Romney, in New Orleans for the Republican Governors' Association conference.

"I certainly never suspected that people would have a hard time finding their way to the city clerk's office," he said. "That's not the issue. It's instead the rights of children vis-a-vis their parents and individuals as they move to other states that are the difficult issues that will need to be resolved. But that will resolve itself over time. "

A Globe survey of the largest communities in Massachusetts shows that in some cities and towns same-sex couples have sought licenses in numbers that far exceed their proportion of the overall population.

In Boston, gay or lesbian couples made up 491 of the 2,365 couples who have applied for licenses since May 17, or 21 percent of the total. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, the percentage of gay and lesbian adults in Boston is probably no more than 10 percent, according to Gary J. Gates, a demographer at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., and the author of the "Gay and Lesbian Atlas."

Some Boston marriages probably involve people coming to the city because it offered an accepting environment. Gates said the relatively high number of gay and lesbian couples getting married probably reflects pent-up demand.

"You have to remember that same-sex couples haven't had the ability to marry, so you would expect a surge that probably would not be sustained over time as it becomes a much more normalized process," Gates said.

In Provincetown and Northampton, same-sex couples made up the majority of people who received marriage licenses in the last six months.

In Provincetown, 912, or 97 percent, of the 937 couples who have applied for licenses since May 17 are same-sex couples. In Northampton, 325, or 66 percent, of the 494 couples who got licenses were gay or lesbian.

In Provincetown, 225 of the same-sex couples applied for licenses during the first week after May 17, and in Northampton 114 did. Other cities and towns also had relatively high percentages of same-sex couples applying: In Somerville 32 percent of the applicants were gay or lesbian couples, and in Springfield the percentage was 12 percent.

The first day after May 17, a Globe survey of 752 same-sex couples in 11 cities and towns found that two-thirds of those seeking marriage licenses were women. According to national surveys, 43 percent of lesbians are in couples at any one time, compared with 23 percent of men.

But the percentage of male and female same-sex couples seeking licenses differed greatly from city to city, according to the Globe survey conducted yesterday. In Boston, 63 percent of the same-sex applicants were men, while in Northampton 88 percent were women.

Yesterday, Gail Gilmore, 48, and Marisel Perez, 49, of Medford snapped photos of their marriage application as they handed it to a Cambridge city clerk's office staff member. "This is the year anniversary of the decision; so much has happened this year," Gilmore said. But because they have been together for 17 years, she said, "it already feels like a marriage."

Globe correspondents Elise Castelli and Emma Stickgold and Globe staff writer Yvonne Abraham contributed to this report. 

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