Massachusetts becomes first US state to recognise gay marriages

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Scores of jubilant same-sex couples began exchanging wedding vows in Massachusetts yesterday as the state became the first in America to recognise gay marriage.

Scores of jubilant same-sex couples began exchanging wedding vows in Massachusetts yesterday as the state became the first in America to recognise gay marriage.

The stampede began in the liberal-dominated town of Cambridge, just across the Charles River from Boston, where officials at the town hall began taking applications for marriage licenses at one minute past midnight. As many as 250 couples had queued up to begin filling in the paper work. Outside the town hall, an estimated 5,000 people, many gays and lesbians, celebrated in the street.

Other communities waited to open their town-hall doors at the normal hour of 8am for the expected rush of same-sex couples taking advantage of a change in state law that was ordered by the state's Supreme Court last November and formally came into effect yesterday.

Thus began a day that catapults America - somewhat to its consternation - into the forefront of those few countries around the world that allow same-sex couples to wed. Previously, gays could only get married officially in Belgium, the Netherlands and some provinces of Canada.

Last minute manoeuvres by conservative groups opposed to gay marriage hit the buffers only last Friday evening when the US Supreme Court rejected a request to intervene. However, a federal appeals court in Massachusetts has agreed to hear the case in early June. By then, however, many hundreds of gay couples are expected to have been joined in marriage in Massachusetts.

Among the very first to tie the knot were Tanya McCloskey, 52, and Marcia Kadish, 56, of Malden, Massachusetts. They were waiting to pick up licenses in the wee hours yesterday in Cambridge and then worked fast to win a legal waiver from a judge that allowed them to short-circuit a provision that would have required them to wait three days before actually exchanging vows.

Their marriage thus took place at 9.15am with Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury officiating. "Now by the power vested in me by the state of Massachusetts as a justice of the peace, and most of all by the power of your own love, I now pronounce you married under the laws of Massachusetts," Ms Drury said. "You may seal this marriage with a kiss."

"I feel all tingly and wonderful," a beaming Ms Kadish, who works in personnel, gushed after the brief ceremony. "So much love, can't you see it is just bursting out of me?"

In Boston, among those requesting marriage licenses were Hillary and Julie Goodridge, who, three years ago, were turned away by City Hall. Their rejection spurred them to bring before the state Supreme Court the case that resulted in the legalisation of gay marriage. When they returned to City Hall yesterday, they were welcomed by the Mayor, Thomas Menino. They were planning to hold their ceremony later last night.

"Once again, we've broken down a barrier in the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts," the Mayor declared. "That's what it's all about."

"Next to the birth of our daughter, this is the happiest day of our lives," Julie Goodridge told reporters. "It's absolutely thrilling, it's overwhelming, I'm so happy," Hillary Goodridge added.

While the day's events marked a stinging setback for opponents of gay marriage, there were few protests yesterday to mar the new day. Those celebrating on the streets of Cambridge overnight, blowing bubbles and singing the national anthem, massively outnumbered a lonely group of anti-gay activists, most from a single church in Kansas. They waved banners with slogans like "God Hates Fags".

Ray McNulty, spokesman for the Massachusetts Family Institute that has lobbied against same-sex marriage, criticized some of the protesters, saying there was no need for hateful speech: "What's going on down there is legal, give those people their happiness for the day."

Several Massachusetts communities, including Provincetown, a gay Mecca on the tip of Cape Cod, set about ignoring warnings from the state's Governor, that they should not issue licenses to couples resident in other states. Large numbers of out-of-state couples flocked to the resort town hoping to wed and now face new hurdles trying to persuade their own states to recognise them as legally married.