5 years later, couples cheer Mass. gay marriage ruling

Celebrate decision by 4 other states to allow unions

By Denise Lavoie
Associated Press / May 17, 2009
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Every year, the couples who led the fight for gay marriage in Massachusetts get together privately to celebrate both their own weddings and the marriages of thousands more couples who followed them.

But this year, the celebration feels a little bit sweeter for the six couples who will gather today to mark the fifth anniversary of Massachusetts becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. This year, they will also be celebrating the legalization of gay marriage in four other states.

"We've been very happy that it's started to be accepted in other places," said Maureen Brodoff, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to a Supreme Judicial Court decision legalizing gay marriage.

"It's important to us that same-sex relationships get recognition outside of our home state, and I think that that is happening slowly as people look to the Massachusetts example and see that, you know, the sky didn't fall, that it's strengthened families, that it's brought joy to a lot of families," Brodoff said.

Brodoff married her longtime partner, Ellen Wade, on May 17, 2004, the first day same-sex couples were allowed to marry.

Since then, more than 12,350 same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts, out of slightly more than 172,000 marriages in the state, according to the latest figures, which run through September 2008.

Opponents say they remain concerned that gay marriage will have a negative effect on children and religious freedom.

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, points to a ruling in a lawsuit filed by Lexington parents who objected to gay families being discussed in their children's elementary school classrooms. A federal appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, saying the inclusion of books that included gay people or relationships did not violate the parents' First Amendment right to free exercise or religion.

Mineau also cited the 2006 decision by the Boston Archdiocese's Catholic Charities to stop providing adoption services because state law required it to consider same-sex parents when looking for adoptive homes. "These are foretelling events," Mineau said. "We've always said it's going to take a generation for the full impact of this radical social experiment to take effect, but there are certainly these telling signs."

The couples who led the fight to legalize gay marriage say their unions have been just like anyone else's. One of the seven couples who brought the landmark lawsuit is now in the midst of a divorce. Julie and Hillary Goodridge filed for divorce in February after separating in 2006.

One of the couples, Rob Compton and David Wilson, said they have watched over the past five years as acceptance in their community has grown.

Compton said he's been surprised by how quickly other states have accepted same-sex marriage. Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, and Vermont legalized gay marriage. Governor John Lynch of New Hampshire said he will sign a bill to make his state the sixth if lawmakers strengthen protections for churches opposed to gay marriage.