10 years later, photographer captures Massachusetts couples who pioneered same-sex marriage

Originally married to women, David Wilson and Robert Compton (pictured above) both had children from their previous marriages and met each other through a support  group called Gay Fathers of Greater Boston. They went on to sue the state for the right to marry in  Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and won. Joel Benjamin/Boston Center for Adult Education

For Rob Compton and David Wilson - plaintiffs in the landmark case that made Massachusetts the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage - the day of their wedding still feels like a blur.

It started at Boston City Hall, where Compton and Wilson joined the six other couples from Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health to pick up their marriage licenses as hundreds of supporters and journalists - some from places as far as Japan and Germany - looked on. To get to their next stop, the federal courthouse, the couple needed a police escort to navigate the crowds. Later, at the end of their church ceremony, the throngs of media outside were so strong they couldn't open the church's front doors to leave. It was the first day of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage in U.S. history.

"It struck me how this impacted so many other people besides just us," Compton said.

"There was little time to really reflect because there was so much outside influence," Wilson said. "It wasn't as much our day as we would have liked it. The world was watching - but we agreed to that."

Ten years have passed, and the time for reflection is here. Today, Wilson and Compton are subjects of a new photography exhibit marking the 10th anniversary of the historic case, which made Massachusetts not just the first U.S. state but the fourth place in the world - behind The Netherlands, Belgium and Canada - to legalize same-sex marriage, according to the group Freedom to Marry.

The exhibit, on display at the Boston Center for Adult Education until the end of June, depicts dozens of the gay and lesbian couples who first wed in Massachusetts in 2004, including all seven couples named in Goodridge v. Massachusetts. It is focused on the passage of time, with side-by-side portraits of the families in 2004 and in 2014.

"What comes through is the love, pretty much uniformly," exhibit photographer Joel Benjamin said.

The photos highlight what's changed - gray hairs, wrinkles, adopted children, pets and all - since 2004. Of the seven couples named in Goodridge v. Massachusetts, six remain married - but all seven agreed to participate by having their portrait taken.

Taken together, Benjamin says, the photographs highlight the very normal families that grew out of Massachusetts' decision to legalize same-sex marriage.

"The sun still came up, the sky didn't fall," Benjamin said. "No other marriages were harmed."

A gay man himself, Benjamin said that before 2004 he "never really ever imagined that marriage was possible." Today, same-sex couples can marry in 19 states and in Washington D.C., according to Human Rights Campaign.

"It's like watching your kids grow up," Compton said of seeing same-sex marriage spread across the country since 2004.

For Compton and Wilson, the anniversary of Goodridge v. Massachusetts gave them the chance to have the ceremony that didn't have 10 years ago: quiet, family-focused and intimate. Together with their children, grandchildren and friends, the couple renewed their vows earlier this month at Boston's Arlington Street Church, the same church at which they married. They chose to recite the exact same words they did on May 17, 2004. Afterward, they went out for lunch as a family and reflected on the past decade.

"There was no media involved or outside influence," Wilson said. "It was really our moment."

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