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After Massachusetts’ first same-sex marriages, ‘joy spread’

Saturday, May 17, 2014
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Irma, left, and her wife, Angela Bauer-Levesque pose on the stairway at Cambridge City Hall in Cambridge, Mass., Friday, May 16, 2014, prior to a renewal of their marriage vows in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts and the nation. The women recalled being swept up in the excitement at they passed by city hall in 2004. Officials had decided to being marrying couples at midnight and the two jumped in line. The Cambridge couple said they got their license at 4:20 in the morning.Elise Amendola, AP

Irma, left, and her wife, Angela Bauer-Levesque pose on the stairway at Cambridge City Hall in Cambridge, Mass., Friday, May 16, 2014, prior to a renewal of their marriage vows in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts and the nation. The women recalled being swept up in the excitement at they passed by city hall in 2004. Officials had decided to being marrying couples at midnight and the two jumped in line. The Cambridge couple said they got their license at 4:20 in the morning.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Newlyweds and couples celebrated Friday along with the lead lawyer in the landmark case behind the first same-sex marriages in Massachusetts and the nation 10 years ago.

Lawyer Mary Bonauto said at the Cambridge City Hall festivities that none of the dire predictions made in 2004 about the effects of gay marriage on the wider society have come true.

A timeline of events in the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in the U.S.

  • 1993: The Hawaii Supreme Court rules that denying marriage to gay couples violates the state constitution, sparking a push in Congress to pass pre-emptive federal legislation.
  • 1996: President Bill Clinton signs the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and denies gay couples a host of federal marriage benefits.

  • 1998: Hawaii amends its constitution to give the Legislature sole power over amendments regarding gay marriage. The same day, Alaska voters amend the constitution to limit marriage to heterosexual couples.

  • 1999: California becomes the first state to create a domestic partnership law allowing gay couples to receive some protections of marriage. The Vermont Supreme Court rules that same-sex couples must be treated equally to heterosexual couples.

  • 2000: A law establishing civil unions goes into effect in Vermont; it gives gay couples some of the protections of marriage. Opponents in Nebraska win a ballot initiative that prohibits the state from recognizing same-sex couples. Over the next decade, similar amendments pass in many other states.

  • 2003: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules that barring same-sex couples from marrying violates the state constitution, making it the first state to legalize same-sex marriage.

  • May 17, 2004: Same-sex weddings begin in Massachusetts.

  • 2004: 13 states adopt constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, including Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan and Mississippi.

  • 2008: California court orders legalization. Voters subsequently overturn the ruling and limit marriage to one man and one woman. Connecticut’s high court legalizes same-sex marriage after finding civil unions aren’t equal to marriage.

  • 2009: Gay marriage is legalized in Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa.

  • 2010: Marriage licenses become available in the District of Columbia, the first U.S. jurisdiction below the Mason-Dixon line to legalize same-sex marriage.

  • 2011: New York becomes the most populous state to approve same-sex marriage.

  • 2012: President Barack Obama endorses same-sex marriage; voters approve it in referendums in Maine, Maryland and Washington state.

  • 2013: The Hawaii Legislature passes a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples begin marrying on Dec. 2. Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico raise the number of states with same-sex marriage to 15.

  • June 26, 2013: U.S. Supreme Court overturns a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, allowing married same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. In a separate ruling, the high court clears the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.

  • 2013: Illinois Legislature legalize s same-sex marriage.

  • December 2013 to May 2014: Federal or state judges in Oklahoma, Virginia, Michigan, Texas, Utah, Arkansas and Idaho find bans unconstitutional. Judges order Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Appeals are pending or promised in all the cases.

“Since Massachusetts began marrying people, the joy spread. You couldn’t argue with it anymore,” she said. “Seeing the reality — seeing these families who were happy and together, more secure and everyone else was just fine — really made all the difference.”

Irma and Angela Bauer-Levesque recalled going out to dinner and being swept up in the excitement as they passed city hall 10 years ago. Officials had decided to begin marrying couples at midnight.

“We kind of got sucked into the crowd and found the end of the line. We were the 250th in line,” said Irma Bauer-Levesque. “Of course, it was a huge party. We remember being quite overwhelmed by it all.”

The Cambridge couple — surrounded by balloons, music, cake and a guitarists singing Cuban love songs — ended up getting their marriage license at 4:20 in the morning.

“One of the most amazing things was when we walked out, there were still over 100 people out there congratulating us,” Angela Bauer-Levesque said. They held their marriage ceremony about three weeks later.

The festivities gave couples who tied the knot during that first flood of marriages a decade ago a chance to renew their vows. They were joined by elected officials and well-wishers.

But as joyful as it was, the event paled in comparison to the overnight marriage festival in 2004 when hundreds of couples and thousands of their supporters flooded the hall, spilling out onto the sloping lawn and forcing police to shut down Massachusetts Avenue, the main thoroughfare in front of the building.

That moment, made possible by the landmark decision by Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court, marked a watershed in the debate over gay marriage for the country.

Since then, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Judges in seven other states have struck down bans on gay marriage, though officials are appealing.

Opposition remains stiff in many places, and critics are quick to note that most states still don’t allow same-sex marriage.

But in Massachusetts, the question of gay marriage has become less of a political touchstone and more of a personal milestone.

That’s true for Scott Bechaz, 44, and Carlos Franca, 46, of New Bedford, who decided to use Friday’s anniversary to take their vows.

“We were supposed to get married in June, and so we’re actually moving it up just to marry here at the anniversary because this is pivotal for our community,” said Bechaz. “We’re just normal people who have fallen in love and want to have the same rights as anyone else falling in love.”

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