CAMBRIDGE It seemed like some mix of Mardi Gras, Earth Day, and the happiest group wedding in history.
What started in the afternoon as a sedate lawn party in front of City Hall, with running children, glow sticks, and panting dogs, had by midnight become a celebration so huge that it was hard to walk across the thin lawn without getting a face full of bubbles, knocking into someone with a sign reading Mazel Tov, or colliding with women singing Going to the Chapel accompanied by a brass band.
The cheer that went up at about 10 minutes past midnight, when it became clear that the ﬁrst gay couple had ﬁled their application for a marriage license, was so long and so loud that it nearly drowned out the ﬁnal strains of Mendelssohns wedding march.
A huge crowd of people gather in the late hours of 16 May at City Hall in Cambridge, MA, just before same-sex couples were allowed to receive applications for a marriage license. Hundreds of same-sex couples were allowed into city hall in the early morning hours of 17 May to apply for the marriage licenses in the first state-sponsored recognition of gay marriage in the country. Town halls in other Massachussetts cities will follow suit later in the day. (AFP/Stan Honda)
By 12:30 a.m. those cheers were erupting every minute or two, as each couple emerged from the building, marching down an impromptu aisle cleared by the crowd, one step closer to full-ﬂedged marriage.
By then the throngs had spilled into the center of Massachusetts Avenue, which police closed off from Central Square to Harvard Square. It was filled with local well-wishers, college students in school T-shirts, families from nearby towns who came out to cheer their friends. Some threw rice, others roses, and one man passed out cupcakes with pink hearts on them.
One supporter held a sign reading "See Chicken Little, the sky is not falling," while two women drew laughter with their sign that said "Our husbands were getting boring anyway."
Frank Cortez, 34, a baker from Cambridge, who pushed toward the door, turned his head for a moment and looked down at the mass of people behind him.
"My jaw dropped because I suddenly realized that everyone is supporting this. The only word I have is overwhelming."
What was missing were the protesters, save for a small group of sign-carrying opponents from Topeka, Kan. Shirley Phelps Roper, a lawyer with the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, said the group traveled to Massachusetts because it was the first state to legalize same-sex marriages.
"This is where we need to be to remind these people that this doesn't change anything," Roper said.
Even those picketers could not put a damper on the euphoria. When police ushered Roper and her crew across Massachusetts Avenue to the designated "First Amendment" zone, the crowd let out a loud, mocking whoop. Spotting a sign that referred to gay marriage with a picture of two dogs, Molly Mead, 54, of Cambridge, who had arrived with her partner to get their application for marriage licenses, said, "Am I the yellow dog or the red dog? I think I'm the red dog."
Police at the nearby command post estimated 10,000 people on Massachusetts Avenue, which was closed two blocks in each direction, and surrounding streets. There were no arrests.
The more than 250 couples and their friends who managed to make it into city hall, were greeted at a front table by the Cambridge school superintendent Thomas Fowler-Finn and the director of public health Harold Cox, both wearing tuxedos and handing out tickets with numbers on them.
"We feel very lucky to have this," Cox said.
Inside, there were more people than could fit in the City Council chamber or the overlooking balcony so couples waiting to apply for marriage licenses clustered on stairways that had been draped with bunting, some holding hands, some chatting with friends. They held gifts they had been given from supporters outside -- flowers, Mardi Gras style beads. Some were garishly flashing oversized rings on their fingers.
"It's just crazy tonight," said David Rudewick of Somerville, who was there with his partner, waiting to fill out the application, surrounded by friends wearing white sashes and tinsel halos. "I guess this is how straight people feel, to a certain degree."
But few straight people have gotten so much attention for the seemingly mundane act of filling out paperwork.
Just minutes after midnight, after applause resonated through the City Hall corridors, Marcia Hams, 56, and her partner, Susan Shepherd, 52, both of Cambridge, sat at a folding table draped with white skirting and pored over their intent to marry application in a room that was silent except for the sounds of a couple dozen cameras clicking and the two of them murmuring quietly to each other.
"I'm shaking," one whispered to the other.
Some 15 feet away, pressed up against the plate glass door at the back of City Hall, a handful of their friends stood with flowers, waiting for them to emerge.
David Abel and Anand Vaishnav of the Globe staff contributed to this report, which was written by Vaishnav.
© Copyright 2004 The Boston Globe Company