Cambridge City Hall, Cambridge, MA Source: EDGE composite image

EDGEat20: Remembering Saying 'I Do' In Massachusetts

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 14 MIN.

A Note from publisher David Foucher:

Twenty years ago this spring, a few writers, photographers and other diverse, creative individuals joined together to bridge the gap between local LGBTQ+ news and the internet. Our initial meetings were held in a Back Bay condominium (Boston's equivalent of a Silicon Valley garage, perhaps), nobody got paid, and we hand-coded stories for a growing number of local readers. We were younger and headstrong... but we could not have predicted that our vision would end up changing the lives of millions in our community each year across the planet.

In the ensuing decades, we heard from scores of readers offering gratitude as we trailblazed first on the web, then on mobile apps, and now in social media. We are now a larger group, still pushing for change in our world, and still dedicated to the premise that queer news is vital to the battles our community will yet face. Now, as we embark on our third decade, we're amazed at how far we've come - inside our company and out in the world, where our industry-first reporting of gay marriage has evolved into spirited fights for trans rights and the protection of what we've accomplished in a world where intolerance and hate continues to try to push us back into the closet.

The stories we're republishing tell the tale of a strong community that has endured incredible challenges, and we hope you enjoy these reminders of our progress, even as they help reinvigorate in all of us the determination to press on. Thank you for reading - always.

Kilian and Dave on their wedding day in 2004
Source: Kilian Melloy

Hi there! Let me introduce myself. My name is Kilian Melloy, and I'll be your inside-the-scene, first-person point of view at Cambridge City Hall today, as a crowd of hundreds... growing into thousands as the evening progresses... gathers before City Hall to cheer, celebrate, and make merry in the hours leading up to midnight and the issuance of America's first legally sanctioned same-sex marriage permits.

A little background: My husband and I have been together for 19 years. We have a wedding scheduled to take place within a week of receiving our marriage license. Although the wedding has not yet happened, I have become accustomed to referring to him as "my husband" in recent years because we've been together too long and been through too much for words like "partner" or "boyfriend" to apply.

Nineteen years? Is that what I said? Everyone gasps when they hear the number. Yes, nineteen years – that's what it's been – and more auspicious still, today, May 16, 2004, happens to be our 19th anniversary. We feel blessed; we feel hopeful.

Outside of Cambridge City Hall on May 17, 2004
Source: screenshot/10 Boston

It's five o'clock in the afternoon and there are already dozens of couples in line ahead of me. I exaggerate, but not by much; the unofficial list maker assigns me the number of 23rd in line. "Are you marrying yourself?" he teases, for my husband is not yet in attendance. We heard from a friend that a crowd was gathered in front of City Hall and I threw some stuff into my courier bag – bottle of water, sweater, advance reading copy of a book due out in August because, as important as this day is, there's still work to be done – and trotted over at top speed. It's a good thing I didn't wait: Two hours later, when my husband joins me in line at the top of the steps, the crowd has swelled and the line of applicants has doubled.

In the meantime, between luminous chapters of the forthcoming Jack M. Dann novel "Rebel: An Imagined Life of James Dean," I have chatted up the couples in my immediate vicinity. (Let me preface this next part by saying that I have changed names and some identifying features of everyone I will write about.) Alexander and James are an interracial couple with the additional twist of being a small multi-national corporation; Alexander is from Russia, and though he now is a U.S. citizen, his English is still a little colorful, heavily accented and sometimes grammatically fractured. James is a small businessman from Wisconsin. They moved here from Roanoke four months ago in anticipation of being able to wed this next week; in fact, they have made their preparations. They will be wed on Thursday.

"We still maintain an apartment in Roanoke," James tells me, quietly, hesitantly, as though fearful of being found out and expelled from the line. "We like it here, and would like to stay here. But we'd also like to go back home." Alexander, listening in, sums it up: "We'd like to go forth and back." (A subsequent explanation that the expression is actually "back and forth" leaves Alexander perplexed. How can you go "back" unless you go "forth" first?)

Alexander had been in a relationship in his Mother Russia before coming here, to the Land of the Free. It wasn't easy for him. To be openly gay in Russia is akin to, say, not being a Party member in 1960. But Alexander and his lover, whose name Alexander cannot bring himself to tell me, were happy enough until the day Alexander's lover was critically injured in an accident. As he lay dying in the hospital, his disapproving family refused Alexander the chance to say goodbye. What James and Alexander want out of marriage is the security of knowing that if anything happens to either one of them, the law will honor their commitment and provide for hospital visitation, as well as provide protection for James' small business, in which Alexander is a partner. Without marriage, they would need a blizzard of forms and documents -–legal and financial – and even so their firewall against discrimination and unfair treatment at the hands of relatives or governmental agencies like the IRS would be alarmingly full of holes. It's been a worry for them for the six years they've spent together. But tonight, on the steps of Cambridge City Hall, they hope to see their rights as a family cemented in law. They are ahead of me in the queue. They are number fifteen.

The headline of the Boston Globe, May 16, 2004

Angie and Elise, standing just behind me, are convivial to the point of exuberance. Angie is radiant in a sundress and with a woolen shawl drawn over her shoulders. As night falls, and the temperature with it, she pulls her shawl closer, but the excitement of the moment keeps her warm.

At around 7:30, Angie points across the street, where a cordoned-off area of the opposite sidewalk is marked with signs that read, "1st Amendment Area." "Shouldn't they be over there?" she wonders, speaking of a small group of protestors, about a dozen in number, who have begin to gnaw into the fringes of the ever-growing, happy throng. We crane our necks, trying to read their signs, to no avail.

A little while later, Cambridge police escort the protestors across to the "1st Amendment Area," where they spread out and their signs become visible: FAGS MARRY one sign declares, boasting an illustration of two smiling dogs. Well, that doesn't seem so bad: Why else would we be lining up for marriage licenses? Other placards take a more surreal approach: GOD HATES FAG ENABLERS reads one, in paradoxically left-leaning liberal jargon. There is nothing that approaches the classic protest signage from a few months ago, when the State Legislature was debating an amendment to the Commonwealth's Constitution; nothing with the punch, directness, and theo-lunacy of FAGS ARE POSSESSED BY DEMONS (my favorite from that particular crop), though one of tonight's signs announces that GOD BLEW UP THE SHUTTLE.

Angie and Elise point out another placard that tells onlookers to THANK GOD FOR SEPT. 11! Okay, now I'm offended. No matter what denomination they may represent, it's the absolute nadir – not to mention a slap to every American, no matter their sexual orientation – to plaster a protest signs with messages like that. There were straight, gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual victims among the four thousand who died on September 11, and this flippant reference to their murders, and the frankly psychotic invocation to thank God for it, makes my blood boil.

Angie and Elise spread a cooling balm of contemptuous humor: "I guess they're blaming gays for the shuttle and lesbians for bringing down the Twin Towers?" But the joke tastes sour. The pure, coarse vulgarity of the reference to 9/11 goes well beyond insensitive, even beyond crass, and though a smaller number died on the shuttles, the crew members of Challenger and Columbia were true heroes, and their untimely deaths should not be so carelessly bandied about. For the first time, there's a taint of pure evil at the edges of tonight's celebration.

I later found out – with bemusement, but not surprise – that these protesters were Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church crowd.

Hillary (L) and Julie Goodridge attend a ceremony on May 17, 2005 to celebrate the one year anniversary of the passing of the same sex marriage law in Boston, Massachusetts. The Goodridges were the first couple to be married under the law in the state of

After my husband arrives, I introduce him to everyone I've met so far. He and Angie hit it off at once. ("Don't I know you?" she asks. "No," my husband replies, "you must be thinking of my identical twin brother.")

I turn back to chat with James and Alexander. The media are crawling over us by now, along with wedding planners who work the crowd, handing out party packages and flyers. One personal trainer promises to get couples in shape in time for their special days. A friendly fellow from ABC radio with a chummy voice that's made for the airwaves stops next to my husband and holds up his microphone, asking for an interview. We tell him, "Sure." He starts recording on a small digital device and asks us why we are here tonight.

Well, we're here because it's our nineteenth anniversary today and we see it as an auspicious time to make things legal now that we can, long at last! My husband, who went to Berlin to see the wall come down in 1989, speaks of that occasion – of being part of a crowd over a million strong and seeing what that many happy people look like. I want to add that there may not be a million people here tonight, but the walls that have shut us out of matrimonial participation for so long have been just as ugly and oppressive as the concrete barrier that crowds in Berlin attacked with sledge hammers in 1989. As for happiness, if each of us here right now feels like I do, we have enough pure triumphal joy for one million people. I feel strong as an ox. It might take us until 3 a.m. to get our license, but I doubt I will feel the weariness of the hours. I want to say all this, but I don't quite have the words to make it all seem a propos, so I say other things instead: True things, but smaller, simpler. "This is great!" Things like that.

Robyn Ochs of Boston, right, hugs Kirsten Steinbach of Westborough, Mass., both gay marriage supporters, at the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston in Sept. 2005, after the Massachusetts Legislature overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendme

By the time the door to City Hall are opened and we move inside, though, I am feeling the weariness of the hours – just a little bit. It's been five and a half hours since I joined the line, and the queue now stretches off down the block. The news trucks and vans are more numerous, too, and journalists mill about the lawn and snake through the crowd. A young woman from the Boston Globe stops by to take some demographic information; Alexander and James decline to allow a Boston Herald photographer to take their picture; Angie and Elise chat with CNN. A cameraman standing atop a van waves to the crowd and cheering erupts; he pans his camera across a sea of shining faces, a shining sea of freedom celebrated, upraised arms, hands waving the V-shaped peace sign. More cops have arrived, too, and they hem in the protestors across the way, standing just outside the barricade that defines the "1st Amendment Area." The same dozen anti-marriage opponents are still there with the same loopy, mean-spirited signs. It's about 10:30 when the doors open, and as we start moving forward into the building, the well-wishers fly into paroxysms of gladness and giddy hurrahs.

Once inside – where we can still hear the crowd in full celebration – we are given numbered tickets. My husband and I are no longer number 23, but we are close; we are number 30. We follow the couples ahead of us up the stairs and into a handsome chamber, the room where city officials engage in parliamentary business. A table with hundreds of small plastic cups gleaming with sparkling apple juice sits in the "well," the circular area between the public benches and the podium where Mayor Michael A. Sullivan greets us, congratulates us, and informs us that for the next hour or so, until the stroke of midnight ushers in May 17 and same-sex marriage goes into effect in Massachusetts, we are to be feted with songs and speeches.

My husband and I manage to find the last available seats in the chamber. Others begin to find their way to the overlooking gallery seats, which are soon crowded to the limit. I find myself next to a smiling woman holding a sign that reads, CIVIL RIGHTS AND SILVERWARE. I decide I like my crowd's taste in placards ever so much more than that of our opposition.

It's a dizzying hour. From the Boston Women's Rainbow Chorus and Mayor Sullivan's opening Remarks to Reverend Irene Monroe's passionate Invocation ("Now they will say, 'I now pronounce you wife and wife'; 'I now pronounce you husband and husband'; even, 'I now pronounce you spouse and spouse.' But my favorite, my favorite, is: 'I now pronounce you married!'") to lawyer Mary Bonauto's speech, to the giddy pleasure of a gospel version of the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" by the Cambridge Community Chorus, we are sailing on updrafts of disbelief and pride, thrilled to be holding hands with our beloved, our intended wives and husbands. As the program unfolds, a clock with large red LCD numbers counts backwards to midnight, and then it happens: Better than a happy New Year, the sudden and decisive arrival of a truly new day, a new era with all its hopes packed tight and all the risk for heartbreak, all of it. All of it, available to us at last.

By tens, our numbers are called and we are escorted from the chamber and back downstairs to fill out our Intention of Marriage forms. James and Alexander are in the group ahead of us, but we don't let them get away before inviting them to dinner "in a couple of weeks, after we get back from our honeymoon!" Angie and Elise are in our group, and as we wait they grow more and more (even more!) fraught with excitement. Angie notices a little girl, about six years old, sitting at a desk labeled prominently with the name of a city councilor. She speaks a few words about her hope for the future – not just for gays and lesbians, but for everyone. I don't know exactly what she's saying. It is an enchanted hour; maybe she's speaking in tongues. The meaning behind her words floods directly into every heart. We are stepping through a door into a future we could only imagine, without much hope of seeing it happen, only a year or so ago.

A small crew from Cambridge Cable Access Television steps into the well, into our magic circle, and asks for interviews. Excited, hopping from one foot onto the other so that the camera man has to juggle and jump too, the man with the microphone asks me if I have any fears about the future we are about to enter into, either politically or personally. Sure, it's going to be a bumpy road. It's a new road, taking us to a new place. There will be setbacks, there will be moments of outrage. But that's all politics. As for my husband and I – we aren't afraid at all. We'll have quarrels just like we did before, and we will always make it up, just like we did before. What's new are our options under the law, and we opt for marriage, to declare ourselves committed and combined in obligation, property, and privileges. We choose to be committed and combined, publicly, without reservation, in the fullness of the law. That's how strongly we believe in ourselves and each other.

Then our group is lined up according to our numbers and escorted through that door, down stairwells lined with smiling faces – straight, gay, everything in between, the whole spectrum, people from our community – to the tables where we present our blood test results, fill out forms attesting to our residence in and citizenship of Massachusetts, and swear that we are not marrying blood relatives. We are asked to raise our right hands. Do we so attest and swear?

Yes, by God, we do!

Dave and Kilian. 2024.

If you ever want to find out what it feels like to be a rock star, you have two options: You can buy a guitar and practice real hard, or you can get your marriage certificate at midnight on May 17, 2004, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Walking out of City Hall at 1 a.m., we are confounded by the gauntlet that awaited us: Thousands of well-wishers screaming their congratulations and their felicitations and, every few meters, Cambridge police officers, unsmiling, stationed immobile and unflappable in full riot gear. But it is a riot of unsurpassed joy, a joy that has dispelled even the small knot of protestors across the street. As we walk down that long cordon, a thin and winding path that opens a way through the packed and jubilant throng, the crowd's cries of fellowship ring in our ears and beat in our hearts. Flowers and grains of rice rain down around us, and it seems that all the great hearted, wonderful people of Cambridge have turned out on this chilly spring night to welcome us into the future as full and equal fellow citizens of this great Commonwealth.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

This story is part of our special report: "EDGE 20th Anniversary". Want to read more? Here's the full list.

Read These Next