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Cambridge may counter wait-and-see approach on certificates

While other cities and towns appear prepared to wait, the liberal-leaning Cambridge City Council will consider a proposal Monday night that would immediately authorize the city clerk to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

A few hours after the Supreme Judicial Court issued its landmark ruling, City Councilors Denise Simmons and Brian Murphy submitted the proposed ordinance to move ahead at once.

"Cambridge may be the model," Simmons said. "I'm very optimistic that it could work."

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that gay and lesbian couples have a constitutional right to marry, and gave the Legislature 180 days in which to act on the decision. City and town officials said they would roll with the changes called for in the court's ruling, and any subsequent laws the Legislature passes to comply with it.

"It's one other chore we're going to have to work on," said Laurence Pizer, the Plymouth clerk and past president of the Massachusetts Town Clerks' Association. "We don't make the law. We implement it."

Interviews with several clerks yesterday suggested that they plan to wait for the state to issue new forms that include spaces provided for entries other than "bride" and "groom."

Roseanne Pawelec, spokeswoman for the state Public Health department, which oversees all marriage certifications, said she was confident that such forms could be generated in the 180-day window provided by the court.

Some legal specialists yesterday said communities need not wait that long. Gary Owen Todd, who cochairs the family law section for the Boston Bar Association, said other municipalities could begin issuing marriage certificates to gay couples right away, given the court's stance on its constitutionality. Still, he doubted they would do so.

Mary Bonauto, the lead lawyer representing the seven couples involved in yesterday's case, said she would refrain from urging cities and towns to issue licenses yet. "I don't think we need to make a ruckus about this," Bonauto said.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino praised the ruling, but added that he would comply with the waiting period.

City halls sit at the front lines of the marriage wars. It was the actions of five separate municipal clerks -- in Northampton, Northbridge, Orleans, Boston, and Newton -- that triggered the landmark case, when they denied seven gay and lesbian couples marriage certificates in 2001.

Yesterday's ruling may result in a surge in work for those clerks. According to data collected by the state, Massachusetts between 1991 and 2002 experienced a 15 percent decrease in the number of marriages performed. Presumably, adding gay and lesbian couples to the potential marriage pool, including out-of-state couples, could boost the state's flagging interest in getting hitched.

Globe correspondent Sasha Talcott contributed to this report.

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