News Sports Business A&E

Same-sex marriage, Red Sox top news stories in 2004

BOSTON --It was a year of news that stirred deep emotions in Massachusetts: the first legal same-sex marriages in the country, and the long-awaited World Series championship by the Boston Red Sox.

Just a few months into 2004, Massachusetts was making national headlines as hundreds of same-sex couples lined up at town halls around the state to exchange vows. It was hailed by gays and lesbians as a fundamental right, but scorned by critics who considered it an erosion of the traditional family.

It was the top news story of 2004 among Associated Press members and staff surveyed. But it was followed closely by a story that was nearly universally embraced by residents of Massachusetts -- regardless of political persuasion, ethnicity or economic standing: the dream season of the Boston Red Sox, a band of self-described "idiots."

Generations of fans had suffered through the team's epic bursts of promise only to be left disappointed by yet another bizarre collapse. This year was different -- and the team ended 86 years of heartache by first dispatching the rival New York Yankees in a historic comeback, then sweeping the National League's St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

The same-sex weddings followed a ruling in November 2003 by the state's Supreme Judicial Court that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts. Municipal clerks began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on May 17. Some couples camped out on city hall steps awaiting the stroke of midnight.

The marriages were heralded by members of the gay and lesbian community as a big step toward equal rights for homosexuals.

But groups opposed to same-sex marriages descended on Massachusetts in a series of last-ditch legal efforts to try to stop the 'I dos' from happening. The moves failed, but the rhetoric continued into the presidential election as 11 states passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

Gary Buseck, legal director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the legal group that represented seven gay couples in a lawsuit that led to the landmark court decision, called the first marriages "a huge civil rights milestone."

"We like to think that what all this brought on May 17, and since then, is more security and more happiness to more families in the community, with no harm to anyone else," Buseck said.

The Red Sox, who have supplied countless heartaches over the years, became the source of endless joy for both die-hard and fair-weather fans with a storybook quest to the World Series.

The team, which had not won the World Series since 1918, had become known for its heartbreaking losses under what was only half-jokingly called the "Curse of the Bambino," a hex put on the team after it traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees in 1919.

This was the year to break the curse.

Fans around New England celebrated. The joy was palpable. From office water coolers to schoolyards, everyone was talking about the Red Sox.

"What the Red Sox did is to become the most compelling reality television program that you could imagine," said Richard Johnson, curator of the Sports Museum of New England.

"It wasn't just that they did it after 86 years of not doing it -- it was the way they did it," Johnson said. "To beat the Yankees, at Yankee Stadium, in the 'House that Ruth Built,' that was something."

Sadly, the death of a fan became part of the story. Victoria Snelgrove, 21, an Emerson College student, was killed by a pepper-spray pellet fired by police looking to quell a raucous celebration near Fenway Park after the Red Sox clinched the American League pennant. Police and an independent commission are conducting investigations into Snelgrove's death.

A White House run by Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry also became one of the biggest stories of the year, as Kerry came from behind in a large field of candidates to win the Democratic nomination -- only to lose to President Bush in a close election.

In other stories that were among the top 10 of the year:

-- Boston hosted its first-ever national political convention when the Democrats came here for four days in July. After planners predicted crippling traffic jams, police closed more than 40 miles of highway leading to the convention site. Commuters stayed home in droves and the traffic snarls never materialized. The political protests at the first national political convention since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were mostly peaceful.

-- Problems for the Boston Archdiocese continued as area Catholics, still reeling from the clergy sex abuse scandal, were told that 83 parishes would be closed as part of a massive reconfiguration. By year's end, more than 50 of the parishes closed without incident, but parishioners at eight churches staged round-the-clock sit-ins to try to save their churches. Archbishop Sean O'Malley, who was brought to Boston in 2003 to try to clean up the sex abuse scandal, appointed a commission to review the closing process.

-- As the Big Dig neared completion after $14.6 billion and years of headaches for motorists, officials learned the massive public works project had hundreds of leaks in its tunnels. In September, an eight-inch breach in the tunnel wall sent water gushing into the roadway, backing up traffic for 10 miles.

-- Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre resigned after two men accused him of sexually abusing them when they were boys in the 1970s. Dupre was later indicted, but Hampden District Attorney William Bennett said he could not pursue the case because the statute of limitations had expired. Dupre became the first American Roman Catholic bishop to be indicted on criminal charges in the clergy sex abuse scandal.

-- The New England Patriots made football fans smile all over again when they won their second Super Bowl in three years. They also set an NFL record by winning 21 consecutive games over two seasons.

-- Bank of America, based in Charlotte, N.C., acquired FleetBoston Financial Corp. in a $48 billion merger to create the nation's third-largest bank.

-- The Springfield Diocese reached a $7 million settlement with 46 clergy sex abuse victims.