Bells Chime for Gay Weddings

It was, after all, a wedding. There were fumbling last-minute instructions about how to use the camcorder, some confusion about who had the rings, and wet eyes dripping onto the carpet. And when the newly-married couple strode out of the nuptial building, they were greeted with cheers and flung flower petals.

But the Monday afternoon marriage of Vivienne Carlo and Lillian Gonzalez, performed by Boston City Clerk Rosaria Salerno, served as more than the union of two former Dorchester residents; with May 17 the first day gay marriage licenses could be issued in Massachusetts, it was the first time two women were married inside City Hall.

Across the state, cities and towns issued over 1,000 marriage licenses, legalizing same-sex weddings for the first time, in compliance with a November state Supreme Judicial Court ruling. Boston issued 99 licenses from City Hall, where couples has begun lining up at 3 a.m., according to reports. According to a Menino spokeswoman, 27 couples, including 13 heterosexual couples, filed Intentions to Marry paperwork at City Hall on Tuesday.

The final barrier had fallen Friday, when the US Supreme Court denied same-sex marriage opponents' final attempt to bar the landmark social change.

Gay marriage opponents, including leading Roman Catholics, have vowed to continue to fight. Massachusetts voters will be able to decide on their own when gay marriage becomes a ballot question in 2007.

Carlo and Gonzalez had to perform "serious footwork" to usher the marriage along on the first possible day, Salerno said. After lining up at Brookline City Hall to retrieve the license early in the morning, they applied for the waiver of the three-day waiting period at Suffolk Probate Court on Beacon Hill, then joined the throng on City Hall Plaza, where gay marriage supporters outnumbered opponents, one of whom held a sign that read, "Homo Sex is Sin. Turn to Jesus and Be Born Again."

The proposal had gone from Carlo to Gonzalez in November as they sat in a crowded school meeting at Thatcher Montessori, where their son, 11-year-old Armando, and daughter, nine-year-old Celin, attend. Carlo, a professor at Lesley College, had heard the news of the SJC ruling on the radio earlier, and wrote Gonzalez, an accountant at a small firm, that the decision had been announced. Figuring the court had ruled against gay marriage, Gonzalez was disappointed, and handed the note back. Carlo wrote a follow-up: "Will you marry me?"

"My moms are together today for the 25th year, and they're married for a day," said Celin Monday, clinging to Gonzalez's side.

"I have never been more proud of these words than right now," said Salerno before intoning the vows. The former Benedictine nun said she has known the couple for 18 years. Gonzalez worked as her campaign treasurer during her days as a city councillor and mayoral candidate.

"I used to be able to count on the bride to either laugh or to cry, and I used to be able to count on the groom to either be very stoic or cry," Salerno said. "Now, I don't know what's going to happen."

Salerno herself got choked up performing her second gay wedding; earlier in the day, she had married two men from Jamaica Plain. At-large City Councillor Felix Arroyo, for whom Gonzalez works as campaign treasurer, stood off to the side of the small ceremony, tears overflowing his eyes.

Salerno and other officials reported a snag-free process, with beefed-up security and extra City Hall personnel posted inside and outside the building to facilitate the granting of licenses. Across Massachusetts, said a top official, municipalities took similar measures.

"I think the clerks are behaving well," said Secretary of State William Galvin during a brief City Hall interview. "I think everything's going very smoothly throughout the state."

The lead plaintiffs in the Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health were the first to receive their Boston marriage licenses, and shortly after were married at the Unitarian Universalist Association on Beacon Street, overlooking the State House.

"I don't think I could feel more exhilarated than I feel now," lead plaintiff Hillary Goodridge told the State House News Service, minutes after exchanging vows with Julie Goodridge.

Dorchester was expected to hold a gay marriage at midnight on the night of Wednesday, May 19, after the Reporter had gone to press, at the First Parish Church in Meetinghouse Hill. Rev. Victor Carpenter had refused to perform any weddings until gay marriage had been permitted. On Saturday, according to First Parish outreach and diversity director Kirsten Alexander, Carpenter will preside over three weddings as part of the church's offer of free gay weddings.

Several major religious affiliations are refusing to allow same-sex marriages, including the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, most evangelical churches, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

Carlo and Gonzalez said their ceremony topped 25 years together. Asked about honeymoon plans after the big day, Gonzalez sighed and said, "It's back to Jamaica Plain to do laundry now."