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Avery Nortonsmith, 7, got a cut from Ramiro DeJesus last week in Northampton as mother Gina Smith and brother Quinn, 4, watched. Avery was getting a trim in preparation for his mother's wedding May 17 to her partner, Heidi Norton. (Globe Staff Photo / Steven E. Frischling)

For towns that denied rights, altar is now set

In cities and towns where marriage licenses were refused to seven same-sex couples three years ago, municipal officials are now rolling out red carpets. All seven couples, who became plaintiffs in the case that legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts, plan to get married on May 17, the first day they are allowed to under a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

In Boston, the city's first marriage licenses will go to the three Boston couples in the case, including lead plaintiffs Julie and Hillary Goodridge, when the registrar's office opens on the morning of May 17. Mayor Thomas M. Menino -- probably joined by an enormous contingent of gay-marriage supporters, opponents, and reporters -- will be there.

"This is another barrier being broken down," Menino said. "We'll let TV cameras in to record this historic moment."

In Newton, two plaintiffs, Maureen Brodoff and Ellen Wade, will also find a warm welcome: Mayor David B. Cohen has invited them to be married in his office. And after their ceremony, the city will host a public "Celebration of Equality," at which Cohen will toast the newlyweds.

"City Hall is the people's hall," Cohen said. "The community of Newton supports inclusivity, diversity, and welcomes this couple into the community."

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the legal advocacy group that brought the case on behalf of the seven couples, is working to make sure things run smoothly on May 17, calling city clerks to confirm that the couples will be coming in for licenses. They also plan to ask judges to waive the customary three-day waiting period required of couples after they have received their license.

Ronald A. Crews, a spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage, which has pushed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, said he doesn't mind that municipal officials are making extra efforts to welcome gay and lesbian couples on May 17.

If gay marriage "is the law of the land at the time, then that is their prerogative to do that, and these couples are all from Massachusetts, and they can do what they want to do," Crews said.

GLAD has also reached out to the clerks of the state's 351 cities and towns to check on the logistics for May 17, and to the courts where waivers might be granted, to check on procedures.

Volunteer lawyers will staff a hotline for the first two weeks of licensing for gay couples, in case they run into difficulties. If clerks refuse to issue licenses, those attorneys will investigate, but they will send the couples to a town where getting a license is more straightforward, said the GLAD legal director, Mary Bonauto.

Julie and Hillary Goodridge and the other Boston-based plaintiffs -- David Wilson and Robert Compton, and Ed Balmelli and Michael Horgan -- will be at Boston City Hall together, Julie Goodridge said. They plan to apply for their waivers together at the Edward Brooke Courthouse nearby. Waivers in hand, they will return to City Hall for their certificates, and then each will marry.

Wilson and Compton have planned a 10 a.m. ceremony at the Arlington Street Church, and then a brunch for friends and family.

"It's all in the public eye," Wilson said. "It's part of what we agreed to when we started this case, that we would represent to the best of our abilities the gay and lesbian families across the Commonwealth."

The couple will have a private wedding ceremony in October, Wilson said.

Balmelli and Horgan hope to be married at 7 p.m., before 70 people at a Back Bay hotel, by a Unitarian minister who is a friend. They, like the other couples, left their planning to the last minute because of all the challenges to the decision Nov. 18 by the Supreme Judicial Court granting gays and lesbians the right to marry.

Brodoff and Wade didn't dare plan anything until recently either, Brodoff said. They met with Newton Mayor Cohen on Thursday to discuss the wedding and the public celebration afterward.

"It's only in the last two weeks that we've come to realize this really is going to take place, and we want to do our marriage on that historic day," she said.

Another of the plaintiff couples, Gina Smith and Heidi Norton, are also likely to be first in line for licenses on May 17, in Northampton. The couple, who have two children, Avery, 7, and Quinn, 4, started getting organized last week. The boys got their wedding haircuts on Thursday. The couple will be married at their house, surrounded by family, by a friend who is a Unitarian minister. They plan a bigger reception next April, Smith said. But the couple wanted to get married as soon as they could, in case gay marriage opponents eventually succeed in blocking marriages.

"It's definitely in the back of my mind, what other people have in mind for our relationship," Smith said. "It's unfortunate, but it's there."

Gary Chalmers and Richard Linnell will get their license from the Worcester city clerk, David Rushford. If their waiver goes smoothly, they will be married at 1 p.m. at their Unitarian Universalist church. They, too, plan a bigger reception in September.

Gloria Bailey and Linda Davies will apply for their license and waiver in Orleans, and hope to be married on Nauset Beach, with a dozen or so friends. Their bigger celebration will be on July 11, but they couldn't leave it until then, Bailey said.

"It's an extremely historic day," Bailey said. "And you know what? We've waited 33 years for this day, and we can't wait a moment longer."

Rick Klein of the Globe staff contributed to this report.  

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