Mass. marks 10 years of gay marriage
In this Nov. 18, 2003 file photo Heidi Norton, second from left, hugs her partner Gina Smith, both of Northampton, Mass., during a news conference in Boston regarding the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling that same-sex couples are legally entitled to wed under the state constitution. At right is Linda Davies with partner Gloria Bailey, second from right, both of Orleans, Mass. Its been a decade since the highest court in Massachusetts issued its landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage by declaring that barring marriage for gay couples is unconstitutional. Since then, 14 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, with Illinois posed to become the 16th state next week when the governor is expected to sign a gay marriage bill into law. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File) Purchase photo reprints »
Gina NortonSmith and her son, Avery at their home in Northampton Wednesday afternoon.
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Attorney Mary Bonauto laughs during her speech at a celebration held at Cambridge City Hall, Friday, May 16, 2014, to mark the 10th anniversary of the first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts and the nation. Bonauto was the lead lawyer in the landmark court case that led to Massachusetts becoming the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage. Bonauto said none of the dire predictions about gay marriage have come true. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Purchase photo reprints »
Mal Malme, left, and her wife Meg Stone react as they stand to renew their marriage vows during a ceremony at Cambridge City Hall in Cambridge, Mass., Friday, May 16, 2014. The event was held to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts and the nation. Cambridge was the first city in the country to issue marriage licenses on May 17, 2004. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola) Purchase photo reprints »
When Robert Taylor and Robert Hardesty showed up at the Greenfield Town Clerk’s Office for their marriage license a decade ago today, they were excited to be among the first couples in the state — and, in fact, the nation — to do so.
The momentous move was giving official recognition to what had already been a 27-year relationship. Yet, still when they tied the knot in a quiet ceremony in Northampton on June 6, 2004, with their lawyer officiating as a justice of the peace, “It just finally made us feel like we were accepted by society,” recalls Taylor of the quiet ceremony outdoors in Pulaski Park, where a ceremony had been held earlier marking the first day that same-sex marriages were legal anywhere in the United States. “It legitimized things. It was a wonderful feeling.”
“The Bobs,” who had met in 1977 at “The Office” — a gay bar in Los Angeles, where they’d been living — moved to Leyden in 1999 and immediately felt accepted, said Hardesty.
“People used to say, ‘You must be Bob and Bob! Welcome to the community.”
In addition to working as a sales clerk in Wilson’s men’s department, Hardesty became Leyden’s town clerk, which is why the couple had to go to neighboring Greenfield for their license.
“He couldn’t issue his own marriage license,” said Taylor, who worked at the Greenfield Visitors Center and as Leyden’s town treasurer.
Waiting nearly three decades at that point, the Bobs decided to wait a few weeks longer, but felt that waiting until the Sept. 4 anniversary of the day they had met might be tempting fate.
“We thought of waiting for Sept. 4 of that year, but the laws were so in flux then, we didn’t know if it would be overturned before then,” Taylor says. “So we went ahead and got married in June.”
Hardesty, who is now Leyden town administrator as well as town clerk, says, “I’m ecstatic at all the states that have approved” gay marriage in the intervening decade — 17 states and the District of Columbia in all. “I’m a little astounded at the states that don’t. Ohio still pisses me off; that’s where I’m from.”
That frustration over Ohio’s continuing tie-up in the courts is echoed for Taylor, who’s from the Idaho.
“It’s really disappointing,” he said of the continuing tie-up there.
Meanwhile, the Leyden couple is preparing for their 37th anniversary in June and again in September.
And Northampton couple Heidi and Gina Nortonsmith — who were among seven couples in the landmark 2004 case that led to the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage — say their biggest celebration is over greater public acceptance of gay marriage during the past decade.
“We don’t feel like such anomalies anymore,” said Gina, who with Heidi are parents of two children, 17 and 14, for whom they no longer travel with a “big packet of documents” that in emergencies would prove they are legally the parents.
“We don’t feel so alone.”
Her wife agreed.
“Ten years ago we had to answer questions about ‘why marriage? Why not civil unions?’” Heidi said. “Other places we went, people weren’t as aware of what was going on. Now, the cause has been taken up in such a widespread way.”
Today, the 10th anniversary of their wedding ceremony in Northampton, the Nortonsmiths will be in Boston engaged in national media interviews and celebrating the milestone with other supporters of the movement for marriage equality.
“At first, we had to convince people that this was the right thing to do,” Gina said. “Now, the proof is on the other side to say, ‘why not?’”
Local scholars say a decade of legal same-sex marriage in Massachusetts has helped erode arguments that the practice will harm the institution.
“We’ve shown the country that same sex couples are like everybody else and that we can enlarge the definition of marriage without destabilizing it,” said Martha Umphrey, a professor in the department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought at Amherst College.
While opposition to gay marriage still exists, Umphrey said more state courts appear to be agreeing with proponents that the ability to marry is a civil right that should be available to all.
“Constitutional issues are overtaking resistance to gay marriage,” she said. “The state court decisions of the last few years have mattered. I think in the next decade we will see the nationalization of same-sex marriage.”
State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), is another who believes that target will be reached.
A decade ago, Rosenberg recalls being part of panel discussion on gay marriage where members stated that “this is a movement that would take 25 to 50 years to fully mature and be respected,” he said.
“I am pleasantly surprised that we now have 17 states where the matter is completely resolved,” said Rosenberg, who is in line to become the first openly gay president of the Massachusetts State Senate.
The impact of Massachusetts’ gay marriage law has been to “validate the lives of tens of thousands of families,” Rosenberg said. “That has enormous value to those families and also to the community at large.”