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  • Sasha Issenberg

May 17, 2004: First same-sex couples marry in Massachusetts

ON THIS DAY IN 2004…

The first same-sex couples to legally marry in the United States exchanged vows in Massachusetts.


The previous November, the state’s top court had ruled in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health that excluding gays and lesbians from “civil marriage” violated the state’s constitutional guarantees. The court set a six-month deadline for the ruling to take effect, during which time Governor Mitt Romney and members of the legislature attempted to derail the arrival of gay marriage. When those efforts failed, Romney committed himself to working for a constitutional ban, a process that would take several years. But for now, he said, he would “abide by the law as it exists on May 17.”

The burden of enforcing the court’s mandate fell on city and town clerks across the state, of whom Cambridge’s proved the most enthusiastic. Cambridge City Hall opened at 12:01am on May 17 to process applications as soon as it was legally possible. (Those who wanted to marry immediately had to secure a separate court waiver of the mandated three-day waiting period.) The occasion drew not only 227 couples who married that night, but such large crowds that police were forced to shut down Massachusetts Avenue as it filled with onlookers and thrown rice. The Boston Globe observed that “it seemed like some mix of Mardi Gras, Earth Day, and the happiest group wedding in history.”


The Engagement:
America's Quarter-Century
Struggle Over Same-Sex Marriage

​By Sasha Issenberg

The riveting story of the battles over gay marriage
in the United States – the most important
civil-rights breakthrough of the new millennium.
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