Marriage views shift subtly in Mass.

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When the Supreme Judicial Court handed down its landmark decision five years ago tomorrow allowing same-sex couples to wed in Massachusetts, opponents warned that traditional marriage would be endangered, while supporters envisioned an equality movement that would spread across the nation.

Over 11,000 same-sex marriages later, neither has happened.

Massachusetts has yet to become, as former governor Mitt Romney predicted, the “Las Vegas of same-sex marriage.” Gay marriage rates leveled off at about 1,500 a year – about 4 percent of all state marriages – in 2006 and 2007. The divorce rate in Massachusetts has remained the same – and the lowest in the country.

And only one other state now allows same-sex marriage; 30 states have a ban against it.

What’s really changed is more subtle than cosmic, more about the everyday lives of gay couples in Massachusetts than about a national transformation. Gay and lesbian couples here said they are attracting fewer startled looks when they rent cars, less consternation when they hold hands, fewer awkward questions when they visit spouses in hospital rooms.

“When we’re out together as a couple, it really doesn’t come up; we’re never challenged anymore,” said David Wilson, one of the plaintiffs in the 2003 SJC case and the current chairman of MassEquality, a gay-rights advocacy group. “It’s now considered normal.”

Maureen Brodoff and Ellen Wade, who were among the first gay and lesbian couples to wed here, have noticed the decrease in embarrassed double takes when they introduce themselves as wife and wife.

“The sky didn’t fall,” Brodoff said Wednesday, as she and Wade sat with their English setters Diana and Joey in the living room of their tidy Colonial in Newton Centre. “The newness of it has eased. It’s just another marriage.”

Brodoff and Wade, also plaintiffs in the 2003 case, have lived together since 1980 and have a 19-year-old daughter, Kate, a sophomore at Bates College. Since they were wed on May 17, 2004 – the first day same-sex couples could marry – the fanfare and euphoria have given way to the routine familiar to most American families.

Their rights, however, remain limited to Massachusetts: The federal government doesn’t recognize their marriage, and therefore does not extend to them the rights it accords heterosexual families for taxes, inheritance, and survivor benefits, among other things.

“We are, sadly, a long way from nationwide same-sex marriage rights,” said Wade.

The comfort levels of same-sex couples in Massachusetts have hardly been contagious. Outside the Northeast, opponents of gay marriage have been on something of a winning streak, including this Election Day, when they won popular votes to ban gay marriage in Arizona and Florida, as well as California, which had seen more than 18,000 same-sex marriages after a May 15 court ruling allowed them.

Read the full story from the Boston Globe.


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