Tuesday, May 17, 2005

BOSTON (AP) - Alexander Westerhoff and Thomas Lang celebrated the first anniversary of their “marriage” yesterday by holding a sign on the Statehouse steps reading: “Thank you Massachusetts for one year of equality.”

A year after Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to recognize same-sex “marriages,” Mr. Westerhoff said fears have subsided that lawmakers will nullify their union. “I’m very hopeful,” he said. “The more time passes, the more people understand that we just want to be equal.”

Last May 17, couples lined up in city and town halls across the state to apply for marriage licenses. Since then, some 6,200 of them have been handed out to same-sex couples.

Couples marked the anniversary with celebrations like the one at the Statehouse, where hundreds gathered for a group photo, firing rainbow streamers into the air that unfurled slowly onto the crowd. A reception was held nearby with Mayor Tom Menino and an evening party was scheduled at a downtown Boston hotel.

Judy Sclarsky, 45, said the last year has ushered in new rights and protections for same-sex couples. “It’s a huge anniversary. We’re going to celebrate this day forever. I’m going to keep coming down to these steps every May 17. It’s an emancipation day for gays and lesbians,” she said.

The anniversary also brought protests from opponents of the law. Some seek to oust the judges who in November 2003 declared the state’s marriage laws unconstitutional.

“The effect of this perceived law has been the forced normalization of homosexuality on the people of Massachusetts, and harsh intimidation against those who don’t go along,” activist Brian Camenker said.

Lawmakers compromised last year on a state constitutional amendment that would outlaw same-sex “marriage” but permit civil unions. The measure needs a round of approval by the Legislature this year to make it onto the ballot in 2006.

Republican Gov. Mitt Romney says the amendment’s fate is in lawmakers’ hands. “I can encourage them in one way or the other, but the people who listen to me in the legislature are a relatively small group,” he said yesterday.

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