For a region historically passionate about neighborhoods and tribal loyalties, the move of David Smith and his partner into the leafy Bird's Hill section of Needham was a non-event.
''We had some fear about how we'd be received, since we moved from Watertown," said Smith, who works for Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. ''But our neighbors have been very welcoming. When the weather got nice, I was out cutting a tree and a male neighbor yelled, 'Ah, a lumberjack?' and I said, 'Yes, we're bucking the stereotype.' "
With the dawn of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and the acceptance of gays across wide swaths of American society, whither the gay ghetto?
And what about suburbia, that vast land once thought to be populated by soccer moms?
Will there be baby-carriage gridlock on Tremont Street in Boston's South End, concurrent with a wave of Cosmopolitan brunches in Cohasset?
Since gay men began moving into and rejuvenating the South End in the 1970s, it has been thought of as something of a ''gay ghetto" -- loosely defined as a community with a concentration of gay residents and gay-owned and gay-friendly businesses.
And yet as a snapshot of the neighborhood's evolution, consider Atelier|505, a recently completed super-luxury condominium project by the Druker Company Ltd. The building, at Tremont and Berkeley streets, was designed by the South End architects Machado and Silvetti Associates Inc., and its very name evokes a sense of Parisian bohemian living. All of this would suggest it was tailor-made for an affluent gay clientele. But many think otherwise.
''I would bet the percentage of GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered] people in that building is minute," said David Goldman, owner of New Boston Housing Enterprises, a South End developer. ''It's an example of the whole metrosexual phenomenon, straight couples mirroring the gay lifestyle. I'd say they conceived it largely with wealthy empty nesters in mind."
Echoing the sentiment, Jon Goode, a senior vice president of Coldwell Banker who runs the firm's South End office, conjectured that Atelier|505 is ''75 percent straight." A spokesman for Druker said the building had been marketed from the outset to a ''diverse" constituency, and that the company kept no figures as to the gay/straight breakdown of buyers.
''There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that gay areas are changing, becoming more appealing to straight couples," said Jason Ost, a researcher with the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. and coauthor of the just-published Gay & Lesbian Atlas. ''At the same time, gays are venturing into the suburbs and other less urban parts of metropolitan areas, in search of cheaper real estate and more room. But I think we'll have to wait until the 2010 Census to see any scientific data to back up this anecdotal information."
Demographers like Ost are challenged in trying to chronicle changes in gay population and family makeup. It was only in 1990 that the US Census made the designation of a same-sex couple an option, and because of technical issues these numbers are not reliable, Ost said. And while the 2000 numbers show concentrations of same-sex couples, they don't count single gay men or women.
Brokers cannot tell buyers whether a neighborhood is gay-friendly or not, but gays looking to buy know to look for the signs of a welcoming community: rainbow flags flying from porches, a zero-tolerance policy on hate crimes, and openly gay public officials.
The Gay & Lesbian Atlas generally indicates a pervasive clustering of couples in well-known enclaves. Provincetown is indeed the nation's ''gayest community," with about 39 percent of all couples in ZIP code 02657 being same-sex.
ZIP codes in the South End and Jamaica Plain register rates of about 17 percent and 10 percent, respectively. Also on the top 10 list for Massachusetts were ZIP codes in the Back Bay, Dorchester, Roslindale, Cambridge, Northampton, Medford, and Malden.
While the book lends some credence to widely held beliefs -- such as lesbians having a higher presence in rural areas than gay men -- it challenges others. For example, median individual incomes of coupled gay men in a given neighborhood are only slightly higher than those of their lesbian counterparts, and less than those of male partners in heterosexual marriages.
Marriage is generally thought to have a salutary effect on people's long-term economic well-being, but the extension of rights to gay couples might have some immediate impact by relieving previous legal burdens. ''Before we were married, my wife and I spent thousands of dollars writing wills to protect each other," said Constance Cervone, also a Coldwell Banker agent, based in Jamaica Plain. ''Now that we're married, it's automatic." Cervone and her spouse, Janet Deegan, tied the knot on Monday.
Elaine Kay and Laurie Milliken moved to Greater Boston in the late 1990s from Arizona, and first landed in Hingham. Gradually, word spread to them about Hull, whose seaside ambience is causing it to be hyped as ''the new Provincetown."
''We hadn't found Hingham particularly friendly," Kay said. ''Everyone sort of kept to themselves. Here our neighbors are terrific." She added that Hull's designation by the Anti-Defamation League as a ''No Place for Hate" community greatly increased her and Milliken's levels of comfort.
A similar ''sign of comfort" was projected by Melrose for Mark Botch, who recently bought a single-family house with his partner.
''Melrose had had an openly gay mayor, Patrick Guerriero, and that was an indication to us that it was going to be open and friendly," said Botch, a software consultant for Vignette Corp. ''With the nice weather, we're just beginning to meet our neighbors, and they don't seem shocked at all." Botch and his partner plan to marry.
North Cambridge residents Kerrie Harthan and Gloria Korsman committed to each other in a United Church of Christ ceremony several years ago. They have no immediate plans to trade convenience for the verdure of the surburbs.
''We talked a lot about moving out to greener pastures," said Harthan, an admissions officer at Harvard Divinity School, where Korsman works as a research librarian. ''But when we first came here and looked at the neighborhood, we saw other couples, the rainbow flags, lots of artwork. It all just felt so right."
Provincetown-based writer Michael Hattersley sees irony in gay men's wider geographic presence.
''Everybody thought AIDS would drive people back into the ghetto, and exactly the opposite has happened," Hattersley said. ''The more gay people move into neighborhoods, the more people will ask, 'What's the big deal?' "