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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 02:47 GMT 03:47 UK
Gay marriages meet frosty silence
By Matt Frei
BBC correspondent in Massachusetts

Hillary and Julie Goodridge - lead plaintiffs in the landmark Massachusetts gay marriage lawsuit - are pronounced
Couples celebrated weddings and getting the same rights as others
On 17 May 2004, American history was sealed with a kiss on the stroke of midnight.

One gay couple after another - men and women - filed out of the town hall in Cambridge brandishing the freshly issued papers that would allow them to get married.

Massachusetts has often been at the cusp of liberal reforms. Now, after months of bruising battles in and out of the state Supreme Court and the state legislature, it has become the first state to legalise what most Americans still oppose.

Outside the town hall, thousands of people had gathered to applaud the couples, and to celebrate a right which they regard as self-evident.

'Ridiculous'

"This is not about religion," Elizabeth, a doctor from Boston, told me.

Campaigners against gay marriage outside Boston City Hall on Monday
The detractors were there, but they were few
"It's about us enjoying the same legal rights as everyone else. If my partner fell ill, I wouldn't have the same visiting rights in hospital as her parents. If she died in a road accident, I would have to find a new house. It's ridiculous."

The attitude of mainstream America towards gay marriage is ambivalent.

Although most Americans do not approve of it, they are also uncomfortable about the amendment to the constitution recently proposed by the president which would outlaw same-sex marriage.

George Bush is widely thought to have made this announcement in February as a way of shoring up the evangelical wing of the Republican Party.

It's not that we're offended - God will be offended: He's the one we have to worry about
Elizabeth Thomas
Protester
They had become increasingly angered by the spectre of illegal gay marriages performed in a number of municipalities, and they demanded action from the president in return for loyalty at the polls.

It is however interesting that Mr Bush has barely mentioned the issue since then.

In an attempt to capture the middle ground and the all-important swing voters at the election, the Republican Party is trying not to ostracise gays.

Silence

Senator John Kerry, a devout Catholic and the nominee-in-waiting for the Democratic Party, also opposed gay marriage but cannot afford to alienate the gay vote, so he too has maintained a measured silence on this potentially very divisive issue.

Arlington Street Unitarian Universalist Reverend Kim Crawford Harvie marries David Wilson and Robert Compton during their official Massachusetts-sanctioned wedding ceremony
David and Robert were the first couple to be married in a church
Although the municipality deployed riot police in front of the futuristic city hall on Monday morning in Boston, most of the policeman just sat on their horses and watched quietly as this latest drama of American social history unfolded.

They had come in anticipation of trouble, but the number of demonstrators turned out to be small.

"It's not that we're offended," Elizabeth Thomas from Massachusetts told us, wielding a Bible and a poster saying "Sodomy is sin".

"God will be offended. He's the one we have to worry about. This is the beginning of chaos."

In the Arlington Street Church nearby, an estate agent and a health worker became the first gay couple to be legally married in a church.

As the choir sang and the congregation stood to applaud the couple's vows in a church decked with flowers, it looked like a revolution wrapped in a convention.

Outside friends and family waited to throw rice and confetti on the married couple. As they sped off on their honeymoon in a stretch limo, most passers-by cheered or looked bemused.

If there was very little anger, it may be because this country is preoccupied with other problems - from Iraq to the economy.




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