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R.I. issues first same-sex marriage certificates

A Brown alum was among the first to receive a marriage certificate in the state

Rhode Island became the 10th state in the country to begin offering marriage certificates to same-sex couples Aug. 1. Same-sex couples across the state celebrated the day with weddings and by trading in their “civil union” licenses for marriage certificates.

The bill legalizing same-sex marriage passed in the House of Representatives in January and the Senate in April, and Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 P’17 signed the legislation May 2.

Zachary Marcus ’10 MD’16 and Gary McDowell, a Harvard Medical School student, were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Providence. “It’s wonderful to be able to do it where we live,” Marcus said.

The couple initially planned to file for a civil union in the United Kingdom, but after Rhode Island legalized same-sex marriages, they said, they opted to marry in the state where they met.

McDowell, who is not an American citizen, said he plans to apply for a green card once the two are married, allowing him to stay in the country and eventually receive citizenship.

While foreign spouses of Americans have long been granted citizenship in the United States, married same-sex couples were only granted this right over the summer when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

The 1998 Defense of Marriage Act defined marriage, for federal purposes, as an institution between one man and one woman. The law prevented married same-sex couples from receiving the same federal benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples.

“The principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion that struck down the law as unconstitutional. “DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples and all the world that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition,” he wrote.

McDowell and Marcus were married Aug. 1 in Mayor Angel Taveras’ office, with Taveras officiating the ceremony.

“This is a historic day. It’s a day that we celebrate fundamental fairness,” Taveras said after the ceremony. “I look forward to telling my daughter what her dad did on Aug. 1, 2013.”

Despite a contentious legislative battle in Rhode Island that started when a legalization bill was introduced in 1997 and never received a vote, Aug. 1 saw far more celebration than acrimony. But the Westboro Baptist Church protested the legislation, picketing at Cranston City Hall, Providence City Hall, the Rhode Island State House, Brown and Pawtucket City Hall. On its website the group claims a religious basis for its objections to same-sex marriages and lifestyles.

Four members of the Topeka, Kan., church — which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center — were greeted by hundreds of counter-protesters at each of their stops throughout the state.

Sen. Donna Nesselbush, D-Pawtucket, who introduced the Senate version of the legalization bill, protested the church’s demonstration outside of Pawtucket City Hall. Nesselbush was dressed in the robes she wears as chief judge of the Pawtucket Municipal Court, where she had just officiated a same-sex marriage.

Nesselbush and her partner Kelly Carse were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Pawtucket.

While couples celebrated their personal victories, others looked forward to the possible economic boost for companies in the state’s wedding industry. Chafee’s office released a press release Aug. 1 heralding Newport’s selection as one of’s top 10 “up-and-coming gay wedding destinations” in the world.

“As Rhode Island celebrates our first day of same-sex marriage, this ranking reaffirms our role as a welcoming environment for all couples,” Chafee said in the release. “We appreciate this recognition of Rhode Island’s renowned tourism industry in a city emblematic of our state’s long history of tolerance and diversity.”

­—With reporting from Kate Nussenbaum, Eli Okun and Max Schindler



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