PORTLAND, Maine — Steven Bridges and Michael Snell thought they knew what they were getting into a year ago when they went to City Hall to get married. But they didn’t realize that they were about to become instant celebrities.
Joining Snell’s daughters as witnesses were several dozen news reporters and photographers as they became the first same-sex couple to get married shortly after midnight on Dec. 29 at Portland City Hall. Photos of their wedding in the clerk’s office made their way from Maine to California.
“We thought it was truly going to be a low-key night with Michael’s daughters,” Bridges said. “It didn’t turn out that way.”
More than 1,500 same-sex couples followed them in the year since it became legal for gay couples to wed in Maine, which along with Maryland and Washington states became the first to approve gay marriage by popular vote on Nov. 6, 2012.
Same-sex marriage is now legal in 18 states through legislative action, court rulings and popular votes.
Ian Grady, of EqualityMaine, which led the referendum drive in Maine, said the process of recognizing same-sex marriages is speeding up nationwide. None of potential problems cited by gay marriage opponents – teaching same-sex marriage in schools, churches being forced to perform ceremonies – have come to bear, Grady said.
Meanwhile, it’s been fun to see a variety of couples wed over the past year, he said. There have been large weddings with hundreds of guests, while other couples have opted for low-key events. Some couples had to wait decades for the right to get married, while other younger couples didn’t have to wait long at all.
“What they all had in common was that they were incredibly joyful occasions,” Grady said.
The Christian Civic League of Maine, which fought the referendum, remains concerned that same-sex marriages will be taught in schools, infringe upon religious liberties and cause wedding cake makers, photographers and others who decline to work with gay couples to get into hot water. That’s already happened in other states, said Carroll Conley, the group’s executive director.
“When we look across the country, this is definitely not a live-and-let-live proposition. The whole argument was about equality and we said during our campaign that we thought there would be people who’d find themselves in the crosshairs of the redefinition of marriage,” Conley said.
All told, 9,524 couples have been married in the year since same-sex marriage was legalized in Maine. Same-sex couples comprised about 16 percent – 1,530 – of the total, according to the office of data, research and vital statistics, part of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in Augusta.
A year ago, the mood was festive with cheering throngs of people and horns sounding as Bridges and Snell began filling out paperwork at midnight Portland City Hall. Afterward, an energetic crowd outside the building cheered Bridges and Snell and broke into the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love.”
“We weren’t looking anything special. We were just looking for the same thing that was afforded to everyone else through marriage,” Snell said.
The following morning, the couple went to work as usual.
But Bridges, 43, a retail manager, and Snell, 54, a massage therapist, soon realized that photos of the simple ceremony in which they exchanged vows swept beyond Maine. They received letters of congratulations from complete strangers from around the world, they said.
A year later, the couple remains happy. They’ve been together for 10 years, and they’d already had a commitment ceremony long before it became legal for them to get hitched.
One of these days, what the couple did won’t be unusual, Bridges said.
“With so many other states passing same-sex marriage laws, it’s going to be normal. That’s what we always wanted. We didn’t want a gay weddi ng. We just wanted a wedding,” he said.
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