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Same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, 4 years later

  • Story Highlights
  • David Wilson, Rob Compton were among first same-sex couples to marry in 2004
  • At least 48 same-sex divorces, which are hard to track, have been reported
  • California will become second state in nation to allow same-sex matrimony
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By Deborah Feyerick and Sheila Steffen
CNN Correspondent and Senior Producer
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BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Four years ago Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Since then, more than 10,000 gay and lesbian couples have exchanged vows in the state.

David Wilson and Rob Compton

David Wilson and Rob Compton, of Massachusetts, were among first same-sex couples to marry in 2004.

David Wilson and Rob Compton were among the first to say, "I do." The impact, they say, has been huge. Wilson says it was the switch from partner to husband that made a difference.

"Just using the word husband brings a level of confidence that helps say to the person we're talking with we have a right to be together, we are a couple and we love each other," Wilson says.

Wilson and Compton chose to keep their own surnames, but they say the need to define or justify their relationship is gone -- everyone understands what being married means.

Initially, there was a rush to the altar in Massachusetts.

In the six months after May 17, 2004, when Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples, an estimated 6,100 same-sex couples married. They now average less than 1,000 a year, according to MassEquality.org, a grassroots organization working to help gay and lesbian couples achieve equality. Video Watch: David and Rob talk about what has changed »

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Having the same rights as heterosexual couples means the same issues -- like divorce. So far, at least 48 same-sex divorces have been reported. Same-sex divorces are hard to track because they are recorded by the last names of the parties involved, without reference to gender, according to Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a leading gay rights organization.

There have been several attempts to stop same-sex marriage in Massachusetts since the state made it legal. The most recent attempt was in 2007, when a proposed amendment to ban such unions was defeated.

Massachusetts State Rep. Paul Loscocco, a Republican, was one of several dozen lawmakers who changed their minds on the vote, deciding to vote against a ban. The change, he says, is reflective of society at large.

"I can't tell you how many calls I got from people saying, 'I called you before and now my grandson is gay -- now they're a couple -- now I've changed my mind and I want you to vote the other way,' " says Loscocco.

Groups opposed to same-sex marriage said their fight, though less visible, remains strong.

"It has not gone away in hearts and minds of people, particularly parents," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.

"The costs to family, children and culture are too great to concede this battle to those who would see marriage and family redefined to the point of irrelevancy," the group says on its Web site.

For Wilson and Compton, legalization and wider acceptance means they're finally able to reap the same benefits of heterosexual married couples, such as hospital visitation rights. Compton was able to exercise his rights recently when he was in Rhode Island for a conference and needed emergency surgery for a kidney stone.

"I said, 'Well my husband will be coming,' and you know they didn't even blink. They just smiled and they knew I was from Massachusetts and didn't say anything," recalls Compton.

Other benefits include the possibility of obtaining health insurance through a spouse's work and the right to file joint state tax returns, transfer property, automatically inherit shared assets and make medical decisions for a spouse.

Fears that Massachusetts might become a destination for same-sex marriage for the rest of the country were put to rest when then-Gov. Mitt Romney dusted off a 1913 statute barring marriage in the commonwealth if a couple's home state did not recognize the union.

But it's a different story in California, where marriage benefits will follow same-sex couples to wherever they settle. Wilson and Compton plan to be in California to celebrate, as the state on Monday becomes the second in the country to allow same-sex matrimony.

Still, until same-sex marriage receives federal recognition, Wilson and Compton say, the unions will remain second-class marriages.

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"We've begun the process, California is second and as all of these couples go back to their home states, they want those same benefits. They're going to take them back to those states and absolutely they will ask for those rights," says Wilson.

"I see it as a building block and eventually we will see this get to the federal level."

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