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Mass. Crosses Historic Threshold

Covering his face, Drew Culberth, 34, of Topeka, Kansas, one of the 10 Americans who were arrested while trying to bus children out of Haiti without proper documents or government permission, arrives to court escorted by police in Port-au-Prince, Friday, Feb. 5, 2010. The 10 Americans were charged with child kidnapping and criminal association on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa
It was a wedding march with a difference: "Here come the brides. So gay with pride."

New lyrics for a new era, sung jubilantly for Julie and Hillary Goodridge at a ceremony in Boston as Massachusetts became the first state to let gay couples marry.

Hundreds of couples obtained marriage licenses, and dozens swiftly exchanged vows at simple city-hall ceremonies and ornate church weddings complete with champagne and fancy cakes. Among the touches: matching orange bow ties, rainbow flags and confetti, and the Boston Gay Men's Chorus singing "Marry Us."

"When everybody wakes up tomorrow and sees nothing bad happened it's the same world it was the day before, there are only more people that are equal to them — they're going to see there was nothing to fear," Sheldon Goldstein said after obtaining a marriage license in Provincetown.

Fewer than a half-dozen countries allow same-sex couples to marry.

Only a few protesters bothered to show up in Massachusetts, but some conservative leaders expressed outrage and President Bush renewed his call for Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages nationwide.

Bush said "The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges."

He noted he proposed an amendment some time ago that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman. His statement says the need for such an amendment "is still urgent."

"The documents being issued all across Massachusetts may say 'marriage license' at the top but they are really death certificates for the institution of marriage," said James Dobson, founder of the conservative Christian lobbying group Focus on the Family.

On Boston's Beacon Hill, the Goodridges were married by a Unitarian Universalist minister in the presence of ecstatic supporters and their 8-year-old daughter, Annie, who served as ring-bearer and flower girl. The Goodridges were the lead plaintiffs among seven couples whose lawsuit prompted the state high court to rule in favor of gay marriage in a landmark decision last November.

Cheers erupted and rainbow confetti showered down as the two women completed their trip to the altar, three years after a Boston city clerk rejected their first marriage license application.

For all the elation, the couples who received licenses still confront uncertainty, perhaps lasting years.

Massachusetts lawmakers have taken initial steps toward letting voters decide in 2006 whether to ban same-sex marriages and instead define such partnerships as civil unions. It is not known how the marriages that occur between now and 2006 will be recognized if the ban occurs.

And even though the proposed federal amendment is considered a long shot, many states are trying to ensure — in the face of expected lawsuits — that they will not have to recognize gay marriages from Massachusetts or any other state.

The decision by the Supreme Judicial Court prompted months of bitter political debate in the Massachusetts Legislature and in statehouses nationwide, even spilling into the presidential race and into congressional politics. Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry of Massachusetts both oppose gay marriage, but Kerry supports civil unions.

A staunch opponent of same-sex marriage, Republican Governor Mitt Romney pointed to an old state law limiting licenses to state residents only, reports CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski. "We have to follow the law whether it's one we appreciate or not," he said of the court's decision to allow gay marriage.

However, officials in three municipalities said they would issue licenses to any couples who attested they knew of no impediment to their marriage.

CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen says what happens in Massachusetts — the way the marriage licenses are issued, and the effect they have in Massachusetts — will impact the legal case as it goes forward.

In Provincetown, a gay tourist spot at the tip of Cape Cod, two Anniston, Ala., men were first in line outside the town hall. "This is the most important day of my life," said Chris McCary, 43.

Robyn Ochs, who wept with joy while marrying partner Peg Preble in Brookline, said the idea that their marriage might be overturned "makes me nauseous."

"But that's not something I want to think about today, because today is a day for love and happiness and wonderful things," she said. "It's not a day for thinking about hateful people or people that don't get it."

Cambridge, a liberal bastion across the Charles River from Boston, got the jump on the rest of the state by beginning to issue applications for marriage licenses at the first possible moment: the stroke of midnight.

Among the first to get their paperwork there were Tanya McCloskey, 52, and Marcia Kadish, 56, partners for 18 years. They filled out forms, obtained a waiver from the usual three-day waiting period, then returned to city hall to get their marriage license and exchange vows.

At 9:15 a.m., Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury told the couple: "I now pronounce you married under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Outside Boston City Hall, the Rev. Rob Shenck of the Christian Defense Coalition led a small group of kneeling protesters in prayer.

"Let us pray first for those in these lines, waiting to receive what is an illegal piece of paper," he said. "Let us pray for the sin of Massachusetts and the pain and confusion that today will bring to so many."

The Massachusetts couples are now entitled to hundreds of rights under state law, such as health insurance, hospital visitation and inheritance rights. But couples still lack federal rights because federal law defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The Netherlands, Belgium and Canada's three most populous provinces are among the only places in the world where gays can marry.