Gay marriage in pioneer state, Massachusetts, part of everyday life

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by JOE FRYER / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on February 13, 2012 at 7:19 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 14 at 9:30 AM

BOSTON -- As Washington state became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage Monday, the first state, Massachusetts, neared eight years of gay nuptials.

Many couples who have tied the knot there say they've faced little opposition.

"It's not a news story here anymore," said Maureen Brodoff, who took part in the groundbreaking lawsuit that led to gay marriage in Massachusetts.

Brodoff and Ellen Wade, together now for more than 30 years, joined six other gay and lesbian couples in suing the state of Massachusetts about 10 years ago.  In 2003, the state's supreme court ruled in their favor.

"I don't think we really were counting on it or thought it was all that likely," Wade said. "We were pretty surprised and thrilled."

On May 17, 2004, the first day same-sex couples could marry in Massachusetts, Wade and Brodoff tied the knot, surrounded by a small group of friends and family inside Newton City Hall.  When they walked outside into the blinding sunlight, they were greeted by a huge group of strangers and cameras.

"We were so happy," Wade said. "Everyone was so happy."

Nearly eight years later, they claim their life is quite normal.

"I can't think of a negative experience," Brodoff laughed. "It's really dull."

Marlin Nabors and Jonathan Knight, a gay couple that married more than five years ago, would agree.

"It's exceedingly average," Nabors said. "I don't hear a large gasp or large reaction if I say, 'My husband,' or that I'm married to a man."

Since 2004, it is estimated that at least 16,000 same-sex couples, likely more, have tied the knot in Massachusetts.

For Janet Benzan, a Justice of the Peace, those weddings are a regular source of work. About half of her weddings are now same-sex couples, and half of those ceremonies are couples that come from out of state.

"It's opened my eyes," Benzan said.

But she has heard that some justices of the peace do not share her views.

"I had one couple who told me that they were asked to provide an HIV test," she said. "Tears came to my eyes when I heard that."

While opponents of gay marriage may not be in the limelight in Massachusetts, they have not disappeared. 

The Massachusetts Family Institute continues to oppose the marriages. Despite efforts by that group and other opponents of gay marriage to put the issue on the ballot in Massachusetts, state lawmakers have not done so. Over the years, some state lawmakers who initially opposed same-sex marriage have since changed their mind. And unlike Washington, petitions are not an option.

"It's an unsettled issue in Massachusetts," said Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute.  "Until the people vote, the people are not really satisfied, nor are their rights being met."

But Wade and Brodoff believe the issue is largely settled. They are now thinking about Brodoff's sister in Washington, a lesbian who has been with her partner for several years, hoping they can soon tie the knot.

"I think it's eventually going to be available to everybody everywhere," Wade said.  "It's a matter of time."

Like the law passed in Washington, churches and other religious organizations in Massachusetts are not required to perform same-sex marriages. Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a New England legal group that supports gay rights, agrees with the law, saying that churches should be allowed to address the issue on their own.  But Mineau is concerned that over time, there could be a legal showdown over churches and gay marriage.

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