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Married gay couples celebrate anniversary of legal recognition

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

BOSTON -- Alexander Westerhoff and Thomas Lang celebrated their first wedding anniversary Tuesday by holding a sign on the Statehouse steps reading: "Thank you Massachusetts for one year of equality."

A year after Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to recognize same-sex marriages, Westerhoff said fears have subsided that lawmakers will nullify their union.

"I'm very hopeful," he said. "The more time passes, the more people understand that we just want to be equal."

Last May 17, couples lined up in city and town halls across the state to apply for marriage licenses. Since then, some 6,200 of them have been handed out to same-sex couples.

Couples marked the anniversary with celebrations like the one at the Statehouse, where hundreds of couples gathered for a group photo, firing rainbow streamers into the air that unfurled slowly onto the crowd. A reception was held nearby with Mayor Tom Menino and an evening party was scheduled at a downtown Boston hotel.

Judy Sclarsky, 45, said the last year has ushered in new rights and protections for same-sex couples.

"It's a huge anniversary. We're going to celebrate this day forever. I'm going to keep coming down to these steps every May 17. It's an emancipation day for gays and lesbians," she said.

The anniversary also brought protests from gay-marriage opponents. Some seek to oust the judges who legalized gay marriage in November 2003, while others protested the fact the state's high court rewrote state law.

"The effect of this perceived law has been the forced normalization of homosexuality on the people of Massachusetts, and harsh intimidation against those who don't go along," activist Brian Camenker said.

Lawmakers compromised last year on a constitutional amendment that would outlaw gay marriage but permit civil unions. The measure needs a round of approval by the Legislature this year to make it onto a ballot in 2006. But its future is uncertain, as new pro-gay marriage lawmakers have been elected and some past supporters of the amendment are reconsidering.

Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, who opposes same-sex marriage, said the amendment's fate was in lawmakers' hands.

"I can encourage them in one way or the other, but the people who listen to me in the legislature are a relatively small group," he said Tuesday.

Supporters of traditional marriage are considering gathering voter signatures for a ballot initiative that would ban gay marriage and civil unions, said Ron Crews, head of the Massachusetts Family Institute.

They would need to gather more than 68,000 signatures, but would face a lower threshold of legislative support to get it on the ballot. The earliest it could go before voters is 2008.


Associated Press Writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.


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