Gay Marriage in Massachusetts, One Year Later

One year ago today, Massachusetts became the first and only state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to marry. Since then, more than 6,000 gay and lesbian couples across the state have taken their marriage vows.

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One year ago today, Massachusetts became the first and only state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to marry. Since then, more than 6,000 gay and lesbian couples across the state have taken marriage vows. NPR's Anthony Brooks visited one town to find out who got married and why.

ANTHONY BROOKS reporting:

Framingham, Massachusetts, is about 20 miles west of Boston and is known as a typical large American town with 67,000 people and a growing immigrant population.

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BROOKS: In Memorial Square, there's a town hall, a war memorial and a Brazilian cafe and restaurant. There is not a large or activist gay and lesbian community in town, but town records show that 48 same-sex couples married here in the last year; 28 of them within the first two months after it became legal. That's consistent with statewide records that show a flurry of marriages in the first several weeks after which the pace slowed dramatically.

Just a couple of miles from the center of town, Deb Donaldson and Cayte McDonough live in a middle-class neighborhood in a wood-framed house that looks out on a small peaceful lake.

Ms. DEB DONALDSON: Lake Waushakum, man. It's an 82-acre pond, and it's beautiful.

BROOKS: Deb Donaldson says they've been together for eight years and married as soon as they could in the first week.

Ms. DONALDSON: Yeah. Well, we thought we better jump while the iron was hot in case they changed their minds.

BROOKS: Donaldson is 50 years old. Her spouse, Cayte McDonough, is 45, which, according to town records, was the median age of those who married in Framingham. Donaldson is a massage therapist. McDonough works in a garden nursery and has started a new job in the western part of the state, so they're moving. Surrounded by a jumble of packing boxes, Donaldson says it's great to be married.

Ms. DONALDSON: It's just given us a more legitimate standing. Like, when we filled out a mortgage application, we really were spouse, not just co-borrower. It just made everything much more solid.

Ms. CAYTE McDONOUGH: Just that whole different realm.

BROOKS: Donaldson's spouse, Cayte McDonough.

Ms. McDONOUGH: It's been extremely positive in the reaction and responses we've got from friends and family and even strangers. Neighbors just, you know, waving and saying, `Congratulations,' you know, happily married.

Ms. DONALDSON: We're just a normal middle-class couple who are struggling with work and paying bills and packing boxes right now for the move, you know.

BROOKS: Town records show that among the gays and lesbians who married in Framingham are doctors, nurses, a teacher, two police officers, an accountant, a librarian and a homemaker. The youngest was 22; the oldest was 86. Of the 48 couples, 12 are males, 36 female. That's consistent with statewide data that found women make up two-thirds of the more than 6,100 same-sex couples who married in the past year.

Ms. LEE BADGETT (University of Massachusetts-Amherst): That's the most interesting thing, I think.

BROOKS: Economist Lee Badgett of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst surveyed gay and lesbian families in the state and says she's not surprised that women are marrying at roughly twice the rate as men.

Ms. BADGETT: Most likely, this reflects the difference in who has kids. In Massachusetts, lesbian couples are about twice as likely to have kids as gay male couples are. Marriage represents stability; people might want to demonstrate that to their children by getting married.

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BROOKS: Hi.

Ms. JENNY POLLOCK(ph): Hi, I'm Jenny.

BROOKS: Jenny. Anthony.

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BROOKS: Suzanne Turner and Jenny Pollock of Framingham have been together for 15 years and married in June. They have an energetic German shepherd named Cassie(ph) and a three-year-old son Benjamin(ph), who just woke from a nap. Suzanne Turner, who's 42, says Benjamin was among the reasons she wanted to marry.

Ms. SUZANNE TURNER: Well, part of it was to be part of a historical event, in our opinions, but to really make that final commitment for us as a family, you know, protections for Benjamin as our son together...

BENJAMIN: Why are you calling me, Mama?

Ms. TURNER: ...and for the two of us. Yeah.

BENJAMIN: Mama! Mama!

Ms. TURNER: I understand. I understand.

Ms. POLLOCK: We would've gotten married either way if we didn't have Benjamin.

BROOKS: That's Turner's spouse, Jenny Pollock, who's 46.

Ms. POLLOCK: We had a commitment ceremony before they allowed marriage, because we wanted to be married before we had Benjamin. So being married hasn't changed anything other than I was able to buy a wife card the other day for Mother's Day.

BROOKS: Among Framingham's newly married males couples are Michael Drescher and Royce Tyree, who have been together 13 years and married in October. Tyree has his own theory why fewer gay men are marrying.

Mr. ROYCE TYREE: We have the same commitment problems that you do. Gay men are men. We're men to begin with, so that's part of it.

Mr. MICHAEL DRESCHER: I'll be honest. I was reticent about it.

BROOKS: Tyree's spouse, Michael Drescher, explains why he had reservations about marrying.

Mr. DRESCHER: Part of it is if it doesn't go beyond the state, what do we do if we have to move for work. You know, what we've gained here, we're going to have to give up. And it's also--I'm very private for the most part, and that was a big step, getting married, going down for the marriage certificate, because here I'm bringing in more people into my life than I've done before.

BROOKS: According to census data collected by Lee Badgett of the University of Massachusetts, about a third of the state's gay and lesbian couples opted to marry. They did so all across the state, though a third of the marriages were concentrated in four cities and towns, including Boston and Provincetown, which have large, active gay and lesbian communities. The rate was lower in Framingham, where a little more than one-in-four gay couples married. Badgett says that suggests that beyond those big communities, gays and lesbians are less comfortable taking the public step of marriage.

Ms. BADGETT: So as long as people aren't feeling completely comfortable walking downtown to their own town hall, that suggests that while we have equality in terms of the policy, we may not have equality in terms of the sense of welcomeness in different towns.

BROOKS: Or it could be that many couples are waiting to see how the political battle plays out. A proposed amendment to the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage is pending in the state Legislature. Though it appears to be losing support, it could come before voters next year.

Mr. KRIS MINEAU (President, Massachusetts Family Institute): Well, it's far from being resolved.

BROOKS: Kris Mineau is president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, and opposes gay marriage. He argues that the slowing pace of marriages in recent months suggests that even among gays and lesbians, there is weak support for same-sex marriage.

Mr. MINEAU: It doesn't appear to me that this was a burning desire in the hearts of the homosexual community to actually get married. No, this was a political trophy, a social trophy, that they wanted.

BROOKS: The most recent poll suggests that a slim majority of Massachusetts residents support same-sex marriage, and all the couples we spoke to expressed frustration that a year after winning the rights and protections that come with legal marriage, this fight is not over. Anthony Brooks, NPR News.

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