Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A celebration of marriage between gay partners

A celebration of marriage between gay partners
HARPSWELL — When Margaret DaRos talks about her son John's wedding, she makes sure people know he is gay.

She has had a few surprised reactions and has been asked questions. John DaRos and Greg Berkel live in Massachusetts and married a week ago Sunday with a ceremony, followed by a reception two days ago in Boothbay Harbor.

Margaret talks about it not only because she's happy about the event. She would like to see gay marriage be accepted as a sign of equality in America.

Although Maine allows domestic partnerships rather than marriage for gay couples, both she and her husband Dennis have been pleased with the response to the news of the wedding, friends and local businesses included.

"My hope is that eventually everyone can become gender-blind on these issues, realizing anything less than that renders a particular group of people diminished and marginalized," she said.

Neither the inn where the reception occurred nor the photographer has handled a gay wedding before. John DaRos said he and Berkel have been treated very well at the inn.

"It feels to us like people are quickly moving through it and beyond it," he said of acceptance of gay marriage and partnerships.

After she was hired to take the pictures, Leigh Kelly-Monroe told people "This is great! I've just booked my first gay wedding."

The Bath-based photographer has taken portraits of gay couples before, but not a formal occasion such as Saturday's celebration.

"I've always been open to the idea. I've just never been asked. This just happens to be the first," she said. "Intimacy between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples makes no difference to me. Everything I do is tasteful anyway."

Kelly-Monroe said that businesspeople who are uncomfortable with gay and lesbian marriages or partnerships probably won't get their business. For those interested in encouraging alternative couples to be clients, she said, "Just make sure you are comfortable with the idea before you open the doors."

She took a pre-wedding portrait of John and Greg at the DaRos house in Harpswell in May and stayed for dinner.

"I'm so impressed with the whole family, with their courage," Kelly-Monroe said. "What a fabulous group of people."

Pushing the issue
The DaRos family helped advocate for the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts. While Massachusetts may receive attention for gay marriage, Dennis and Margaret noticed something that goes beyond one state or region of the country. That's the visibility of gays and lesbians in the United States within the last two decades.

Margaret's uncle lived in New York City with his partner for more than 30 years and only at the end of his life did he tell people he was gay and who his partner was.

John told his family he was gay when he was 24 years old. Two years ago he spoke to The Times Record with Greg and his family about their support for legislation that banned discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing, employment, education and public accommodations in Maine. The DaRos family expected 130 guests at the wedding. No one turned down an invitation.

"The caring about John trumps everything they're struggling with," Dennis said.

John DaRos said people have been incredibly receptive.

At his job at Bank of America in Boston he got a send-off party for his wedding. People have sent e-mails and made phone calls giving good wishes. He and Greg registered at Home Depot and Crate & Barrel.

"We were treated like any other couple," John said about registering. "People didn't blink."

Dennis described the recognition of domestic partnerships and gay marriages as examples of how a population of Americans that once was invisible is becoming visible.

"Everyone that attends will witness two people professing their love — that has got to have an impact on everyone, young and old alike. For so many years, the professed love of gays and lesbians at best was kept low key — at worse hidden and 'closeted.' Now it's out there for everyone to see and I can't help but think it will influence many," Dennis said.

The national picture
Maine is one of nine states that has spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples. The others include Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii. Massachusetts is the only state that has legalized same-sex marriage.

The reaction of Melrose town hall employees to John and Greg getting a marriage license pleased Dennis.

"They took bubbles from out behind the counter and blew them out in celebration. They were really great," he said.

John heard the women in the town office say, "This should have happened a long time ago."

Their comments made him feel even better about moving there. He and Greg bought a house in Melrose within the last month. Greg also went to college with the mayor's sister. The mayor stopped by the house to welcome them to town.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts in May 2004. Maine's domestic partnership registry became law on April 28, 2004. Registered domestic partners are accorded a legal status similar to that of a married person with respect to matters of probate, guardianships, conservatorships, inheritance, protection from abuse, and related matters, said a Web site for the Office of Health Data and Program Management,

In 2004, 373 couples declared domestic partnerships in Maine. Of those, 15 were terminated, said Mary Butman, office associate for the vital records division of the Department of Health and Human Services in Augusta. The information does not include the gender of same-sex couples.

The department doesn't use the word "divorce" in its records because she said they are not marriages and do not involve courts.

In 2005, 205 couples declared domestic partnerships and nine were terminated. In 2006, 159 couples declared with four terminations. So far this year, the department has had 72 declared domestic partnerships with none terminated, Butman said.

Dennis thought the beginning number of partnerships related to pent-up demand in Maine and noted that with other states allowing partnerships, people can go elsewhere. He and Margaret attended a civil union in Vermont for a lesbian couple; and Margaret came back from a ceremony in Texas this month for another lesbian couple. Texas does not allow civil unions, but Margaret's friend and her partner held their own.

If any friend or acquaintance of the DaRos family opposes John and Greg's marriage, the DaRos family has not heard of it. One friend from Florida whom Margaret says is very conservative had looked forward to the wedding so much she talked to Margaret about getting her son something borrowed and something blue.

"This is about John. This isn't a political issue for her," she said.

Both Dennis and Margaret stressed the importance of talking about John just as they do about their younger son Jeremy, who is not gay. Jeremy will be the best man.

As for paying for the reception and other parties, the families will split the cost. Margaret and Dennis planned to host a Thursday night cocktail party, the Berkels had a welcome party on Friday and Greg and John were splitting the bill for the Saturday reception.

If same-sex marriage becomes law in Maine, the churches that wish to refuse sanctioning them can do so, Margaret said.

"This isn't a faith issue. This is a state issue," she said.

John said while he and Greg pay attention to the politics involved in the issues, they pay more attention to each other and their relationship. Not to mention all the preparation for the wedding.

With a couple days left before Saturday's celebration of their marriage in Boothbay Harbor, Margaret and Dennis' thoughts were more about John, Greg and what guests could take away with them.

"That people reconnect to friends and family and that John and Greg remind them of what love can be," Dennis said.

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