Wed-letter day
by Dinah Cardin - Staff Writer
photographs by Toni Carolina
North Shore Sunday
Friday, May 18, 2004
Front Page

Well wishes and tears of joy mark a Salem couple's final stop on the road to matrimony

There are few people in this world that could see the looks on their faces and not share their happiness. standing outside Salem's City Hall Monday morning as beaming couples filed out, a struggle over, a dream realized, a few of us were witness to a most joyful occasion.

And who doesn't cry at weddings? Ok, many of us. But who doesn't cry at the wedding of two truly sincere people, who are in love, have been denied the right to marry until now and who you just know will make it? This is the wedding story of such a pair.

"We're not very exciting," apologized a heterosexual couple among four same-sex couples, all atwitter, waiting together in a cohesive group on the steps, gleefully encouraging one another and taking photos.

And then the doors opened. Two attractive 30-year old guys had waited since 5:45 for the clerk's office to at least begin the process. Now, at 8 a.m., standing next to a sign in the clerk's office that said no man shall marry his mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, stepmother, wife's daughter and a list of other relatives, two men were permitted to file intentions to marry one another.

My friends Bob Murch and Gary Halteman were the first same-sex couple in the city of Salem to file the paperwork to marry and to swear under oath that they knew of no legal impediment to their marriage. They were congratulated by administrative assistant Rochelle Sport and greeted with yellow roses by Lyssa Andersson, a woman from Lynn's Unitarian Universalist Church, who hoped her support would counter any negative attention the couples might receive. But no one showed to heckle, protest or voice disdain. Instead, drivers on Washington Street beeped their horns and many cheered as they passed the municipal building.

The financial professionals certainly got in on the fight that they say united gay people everywhere, (See Sunday March 25) writing letters and calling local politicians and encouraging their co-workers at Fidelity in Boston to do the same. His life as a gay person is so much easier, said Murch, thanks to other long-term couples, like those there that day, who paved the way for him and his partner.

"Our children will just be bored of the story - 'Who cares abut the time you couldn't get married?,'" he said, sounding hopeful for a reality such as this.

First customers

Murch and Halteman then marched, with reporters and photographers trailing them, over to Salem Probate Court to apply for a waiver to bypass the three-day waiting or "cooling off" period the law mandates.

They had taken their blood tests. In a backpack they carried titanium wedding bands and, in their typically organized way, a file of identification, tax information and past utility bills just in case they needed to sever any red tape. They paid filing fees and received smiles rather than obstructions along the way. Face it. It's a historic moment, even for government workers.

Sure, there were the jokes that Salem would become the S-Town to Provincetown's PTown. There were comparisons to tacky reality TV shows, as the two allowed their entire day to be photographed. There was the admittance that MTV had contacted them, wanting them to be part of a splashy package, shot in Boston with other couples, but these two turned them down, preferring the intimacy of their hometown of Salem.

Murch made light when they couldn't grasp verbal directions to navigate the ancient hallways of the court building.

"Go straight, straight down all the way," a woman told them.

"Uh, I guess we have a problem with straight," Murch joked without missing a beat.

But all joking put aside, at 9 a.m. they sat looking out the courtroom window on a rainbow flag atop the Unitarian Church and chatted nervously with others, hoping their plan for a noon wedding would actually happen. By 9:30, the couple had been given the green light by Judge John C. Stevens, who told them they were his first customers of the day and shook their hands to congratulate them. A respectful applause filled the courtroom and the two gratefully phoned the justice of the peace, who was standing by.

Leaving the court building, we passed another couple on their way to see the judge, followed by their own reporter. It's a special kind of shotgun wedding, urged on by politics and the fear that something might change in the state of Massachusetts before there's time to get hitched.

Waiver granted, he doesn't understand when people and U.S. presidents talk of "activist judges," said Murch. He'd rather have the court, symbolized by a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales, decide his fate than a Republican governor.

"When I go into the courthouse, they don't see that I'm homosexual, white and Jewish,"he said. "(Gov. Mitt) Romney sees all that. But justice is meant to be blind."

A new beginning

By noon, a small crowd had gathered back at the City Hall steps, on which Mayor Stanley Usovicz had personally given the couple permission to marry. Friends, family and the press were there to watch history in the making and a decade-long relationship go the full distance.

"I've been with my son since he was born," said Murch's mother, Carol Sapol. "We've supported him all his life. There is nothing that would stop us from being here."

Michael Kuhn from Marblehead said he agreed to perform the ceremony simply because he had seen a lot of change in the world in his 70 years, and he was proud to be a part of this particular moment of progress.

"It's kind of fun. It really is," he said. "It's a new beginning."

Friends Angela Difazio and Linda Munroe held up a sign congratulatingthe two.

"It's yet another magical moment here in Salem, having Bob and Gary get married," said Munroe.

And suddenly, as if spurred on by fear that something might obstruct the ceremony at the last moment, Murch said, "Let's do it now. There's no time like the present."

With a cell phone held close for Murch's 95-year-old grandfather to listen from Danbury, Conn., the two faced one another on the steps, held hands and swore to take one another with all their strengths and flaws and to remain best friends forever. With vows specially written by Kuhn for same-sex couples, the two seemed to block out all but each other and vowed through tears to unite their hearts and lives, protect, support and encourage one another and promised to have a loving home, dedicated to peace, hope and acceptance of all people.

Passersby stopped to witness history, cars slowed and a group of adolescent boys paused to squint at the steps of the hall. Though the roar of mid-day traffic never quieted, the small crowd couldn't help but share the couple's emotion. Following the traditional wedding kiss, Murch squeezed his partner since college and said shakily with eyes closed, "I love you so much."

The two are off this weekend to the Caribbean island of St. John to honeymoon and celebrate with friends and have organized a grand reception for next month. Wiping weepy eyes and showing off their new rings, the two felt a wave of calm - the waning adrenaline of a battle won.

"It's such a relief," said Murch. "Now let them try to take it away."

E-mail reporter Dinah Cardin at dcardin@cnc.com

 

 

 


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