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Free to marry

Page 2 of 3 -- Members of Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians will be visiting town halls, giving flowers to waiting couples. And some city and town halls will host celebrations later today, including an ice cream social hour in Belmont and a "Community Celebration of Equality and Family," with speakers and entertainers, hosted by Mayor David B. Cohen in Newton, home to plaintiff couple Ellen Wade and Maureen Brodoff.

Meanwhile, Cambridge, with its reputation for liberal politics and vibrant advocacy, prepared to be the first in the nation to issue marriage applications to gay couples. The first couple arrived at Cambridge City Hall at midnight Saturday -- a full 24 hours before marriage licenses were made available.

Longtime Cambridge residents Susan Shepherd and Marcia Hams said they had been waiting 27 years for this opportunity, and the couple raised a 24-year-old son together.

"This is amazing," Shepherd said. "You never thought this would ever happen, not in any amount of lifetimes you could think about."

Shepherd and Hams spent Saturday night in sleeping bags and under tarps near the front entrance to City Hall. The couple plan to marry Sunday at the First Parish Church in Cambridge, a Unitarian Universalist church, with a reception to be held in September.

"We just didn't imagine we could ever have this," Hams said.

The couple had been carefully selected to be first in line by gay advocacy groups, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and GLAD. Those advocates are eager to see media attention trained on the right kind of couples in the first hours of gay marriage: those with deep local roots, so their residency -- the focus of enormous controversy over gay marriage in the past few weeks -- is not in question. Gay advocates are trying to avoid disputes over residency and political sparring today, fearing it will take the focus off what they say should be a day of celebration.

By 7 p.m., 29 couples were lined up outside Cambridge City Hall. Passing motorists honked their horns in support, and local residents dropped off bouquets of flowers and coffee, muffins, and cupcakes to the couples who put in long hours in the drizzle outside City Hall.

"We're well-taken care of," said Sasha Hartman, a 29-year-old South End resident who joined her partner of seven years, Alex Fennell, as the fifth couple lined up on the steps of City Hall. "Every time someone honks, I get goosebumps."

About 9:30 p.m., about five protesters from Topeka, Kansas, arrived, carrying signs in the protest area the city set up across Massachusetts Avenue. Some of the couples in line jeered at them.

Massachusetts law requires a three-day waiting period between submitting a marriage license application and the actual issuance of a license. But that waiting period can be waived by a judge. Some gay couples got waivers even before they applied for marriage licenses.   Continued...

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