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20 years ago Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage


Twenty years ago today, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Just after midnight on May 17, 2004, couples began filling out license applications at Cambridge City Hall.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICIANT: By the power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts...


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICIANT: ...I hereby pronounce you legally married. Amen.

INSKEEP: Many Americans opposed same-sex marriage, and banning it became an issue in that year's election, but public opinion was changing. And today that moment stands as a milestone. Michelle Coleman remembers the day, and also that she wanted to wait a little longer to marry Pam Waterman.

MICHELLE COLEMAN: We didn't get married on that day because we wanted a big celebration - I did, anyway. I wanted a big party, so we did begin planning right away.

INSKEEP: They married later that year. Here's Pam.

PAM WATERMAN: So we got married at this house by a priest, and we also jumped the broom, and then we had our friend play the shekere, and so calling the ancestors - so it was just a mix of all the things.

COLEMAN: All the traditions, yeah.

WATERMAN: And so it was just a way to ensure that whether or not the law stayed in place, our marriage would still stay in place.

INSKEEP: People did not know if it would stay in place until 2015, when the Supreme Court made same-sex marriages legal nationwide. That was over a decade after the Massachusetts top court issued its ruling that ended the state's ban.

WATERMAN: Massachusetts says you're welcome.


INSKEEP: While their wedding was notable, Waterman says their marriage has been ordinary.

WATERMAN: I don't feel like our hardships or our joys, even, have been any different than any other marriage that I saw growing up - you know, the heterosexual couples - except that we might get some drama because we're same-sex, which I think has lessened considerably over the years. But it's just been a regular old, boring, day-to-day, lovely, she gets on my nerves, I get on her nerves, wonderful, can't-live-without-each-other marriage.

INSKEEP: In October, Pam Waterman and Michelle Coleman celebrate their 20th anniversary. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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