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Clerks in suburbs ready for May 17

Gay marriages 'business as usual'

After almost 25 years together, it is now only a matter of days before Maureen Brodoff and Ellen Wade will be able to make their relationship official.

The Newton residents, not wanting to waste any time, will ask a judge to waive the typical three-day waiting period for a marriage license, so they can hold their wedding at City Hall on Monday, the very day same-sex marriages become legal in Massachusetts.

''It just had so much meaning to us," said Brodoff, one of the plaintiffs in the landmark lawsuit that has opened the door to gay marriage. ''It just seemed like such an important, historic moment."

Newton Mayor David Cohen will host Brodoff and Wade's ceremony, and a rally outside City Hall, organized by Newton resident Holly Gunner, will follow.

Few other area communities may be staging such a formal event to mark the occasion, but the historic moment Monday will play out far beyond the liberal inner suburbs. City and town clerks from Waltham to Upton say they've been receiving calls from gay and lesbian couples interested in filing their intentions to marry and are ready to oblige.

Residents can file for marriage licenses in any community, and larger communities, such as Boston and Cambridge, have received ample attention for the ways they will recognize May 17 -- the Cambridge city clerk's office, for instance, will open at midnight to begin accepting applications.

But Joshua Friedes, advocacy director for the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts, believes that because more gay and lesbian couples are raising their children in the suburbs and finding support in their hometowns, many will quietly file intentions at their own town and city halls Monday.

''This is not going to be a Boston thing by any stretch of the imagination," Friedes said.

Because couples do not need appointments to apply for marriage licenses, local clerks are unsure whether to anticipate larger-than-normal crowds Monday. But after attending recent state-sponsored training sessions, many clerks say they see issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples as simply another part of their daily routine.

''It pretty much is business-as-usual," said Shrewsbury Town Clerk Ann Dagle.

Judith St. Croix, Wayland's town clerk and the first vice president of the Massachusetts Town Clerks' Association, said she believes most clerks, regardless of their personal views, will follow the law and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

''As town clerk, they'll do their job," St. Croix said. ''If they have a problem, then yes, they should resign."

Several local clerks say they are trying to keep their feelings on the issue separate from their duty as municipal officials.

''My personal opinion doesn't matter on this," said Jo-Ann Reynolds, Marlborough's city clerk, when asked whether she supported legalized same-sex marriage. She said her office has received a couple of inquiries from gay couples.

Many clerks also serve as justices of the peace. Across Massaschusetts, some justices have wrestled with their personal feelings on gay marriage and have been told to resign if they are unwilling to perform same-sex ceremonies.

Bellingham Town Clerk Kathleen Harvey said she plans to resign her post as a justice of the peace, because she feels ''uncomfortable" about the prospect of performing same-sex marriages. But she will continue to serve as clerk and said her office, which also has received a few inquiries from gay couples, will continue to treat everyone equally.

Harvey was one of many local officials who attended the state-run training sessions -- meant to help clarify procedural issues -- and said she found the meeting informative.

''We're going into the 17th feeling a lot more comfortable than we did," she said.

The same can be said for gay and lesbian couples who intend to marry, some of whom were uncertain whether continued legal and legislative wrangling would force them to change their plans.

There is still the distinct possibility that gay marriage will become outlawed if the next session of the Legislature approves a constitutional amendment and voters concur in a 2006 referendum.

But Newton resident Marie Longo said she and her partner, Allison Bauer, are pressing ahead. They intend to file their intentions Monday and will probably have a small private ceremony with their children the following weekend.

Although the couple had a large commitment ceremony in 1998, Longo said they want to formally marry before anything changes.

''Who knows what's going to happen in the next year and a half?" Longo said.

Not all gay couples are rushing to City Hall next week. Sue Nagy, who lives in Marlborough with her partner, Carol Pearl, and their two sons, said they plan to marry next month, a date that coincides with their nine-year anniversary.

Nagy said that while you might not see the city formally celebrating the gay-marriage milestone at City Hall on Monday, her family feels it has the support of their Marlborough neighbors.

''We've come to find that we really have so much in common," she said.

Newton City Clerk Edward English, like Longo and others, believes gay marriage will cease to be a controversial issue once it is allowed.

''My personal feeling is that this is an inevitability," English said.

And most local officials are already taking it in stride. Framingham Town Clerk Valerie Mulvey said her office has received at least 20 inquiries from same-sex couples, many saying they plan to file for licenses Monday. She said her office always stays open until all customers are served and will do the same Monday if necessary.

''If we have a line, we'll just stay here until there's no line," Mulvey said.

Emily Shartin can be reached at eshartin@globe.com.

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