The happy couple wore Armani—one, white silk; the other, a pale blue suit. They said the usual vows, made the usual promises and, a little nervous from all the attention, jumped the gun by giving each other a kiss before the minister even had the chance to say, "I now pronounce you fully and legally married." Then, before heading to a reception down the hall, beyond the view of dozens of reporters assembled outside, Julie Goodridge, 46, stood next to her partner of the past 17 years, Hillary Goodridge, 48. "Good grief," she said, holding a glass of champagne. "It's just a wedding."

Well, yes and no. For everything about it that was routine—the tears, the lily-of-the-valley bouquets, the giddy flower girl who tossed rose petals from a little basket—there was also something extraordinary about the May 17 ceremony in Boston. One of seven gay and lesbian couples who sued the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2001 over the right to marry, the Goodridges were among the first to legally wed, after the state's supreme court decreed it unconstitutional last November to deny marriage licenses to homosexuals. Next to the birth of their 8-year-old daughter Annie, says Julie, "this is the happiest day of our life."

Although an estimated 1,000 couples jumped at the chance to marry, others in Massachusetts were deeply disturbed that their state has become the first in the union to offer full-fledged marriage to gays. Twelve of the state's 1,200 justices of the peace resigned rather than perform such ceremonies, and protesters like Thomas Schemm, 45, an unemployed nursing assistant from New Bedford, came to Boston to voice opposition. "I'm here because it's against the law of nature and the law of God," he said. "They just don't see the immorality of it." At the White House President Bush restated his support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Massachusetts voters are expected to vote on a proposed amendment to their own constitution in 2006. In the meantime, attempting to block the flow of out-of-state couples seeking same-sex marriage licenses in his state, Republican Governor Mitt Romney has interpreted a 1913 state law to mean that couples cannot marry there unless they are eligible to marry in their own. But that didn't deter couples like Chris McCary, 43, an attorney who flew to Massachusetts with his partner of six years, John Sullivan, 37, a bartender, from Anniston, Ala. "John got off work at 4 a.m., and we were in the air an hour later," says McCary. "We don't know what awaits us when we go back home. But we never second-guessed this, and we'd do it again."

When Julie Goodridge, an investment advisor, and Hillary, director of a philanthropic fund, saw their dream of a legal union becoming reality, they too jumped at the chance. The couple's non-marital status had become all too evident in 1995, when, after Julie's difficult cesarean delivery, Hillary says she was stopped from entering the ICU to see their new daughter Annie, conceived via artificial insemination. Then, at 5, Annie declared that Hillary and Julie (who took the surname Goodridge, after Hillary's grandmother) must not be in love, since they weren't married. Now that the pair have finally wed, says Hillary, "Annie knows for sure that we love each other. She gets that this is the completion of our family."

Except for a family trip this summer, there are no plans for a big honeymoon. Instead, after the reception, the newlyweds planned on changing into jeans for a private party at the Milky Way, a local gay-friendly hangout in their Jamaica Plain neighborhood. But it wasn't going to be too late a night, said Hillary, showing a little happy weariness after an historic day that had begun at 4:30 a.m.: "We have an 8-year-old who has to go to school tomorrow."

Susan Schindehette. Paysha Stockton in Boston and Tom Duffy in Provincetown, Mass.

  • Contributors:
  • Paysha Stockton,
  • Tom Duffy.