Provincetown's new pioneers: on the tip of Cape Cod, "P-town" has been for decades the place gays and lesbians went to escape convention. Now they're flocking there to get hitched.
For Provincetown, gay New England's summer playground, same-sex matrimony is yet another new frontier. The pioneering spirit has always been important to the town's rep as a gay mecca: Not only does it have beautiful beaches, as do Key West, Fla., and Fire Island, N.Y., but like those gay-friendly resorts, you can't go through P-town to get to anywhere else. It is the embodiment of what writer Michael Cunningham (a part-time resident) dubbed "a home at the end of the world," a private space where vacationing gay men and lesbians can safely throw off the expectations of straight society. The town's enthusiastic embrace of old-fashioned marriage is a new twist.
"Who would have thought, 25 years ago, that I would be doing legal marriage on the beach for two sets of lesbians?" says Congregational/United Church of Christ pastor David L. Clarke, who lives in Provincetown with his partner of 17 years, Peter Karl (the two plan to marry "when the dust settles").
Provincetown Business Guild executive director Rob Tosner notes marriage's economic windfall. "Tourism has always been our number 1 industry," he says. "This will just be another component." But, he adds, the money's not the most important thing: "The business aspect is just a bonus. We celebrate as a town the civil rights aspects first."
Celebrate the town did, on Monday, May 17, the first day the state issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Volunteers joined the City Hall staff to process as many marriage license applications as possible. A rally outside greeted the newly licensed couples with cheers. Some who'd received a judge's waiver of the state's mandatory three-day waiting period were married right then and there on the front lawn of City Hall to rousing public applause.
There are the naysayers, of course, most often gay men in their 20s and 30s "who think that it's foolish to be fighting for this right," says Kaminski, 52, a retired mental health worker. After all, why should gay people, who worked so hard to create an alternative society in P-town, now sign on to a heterosexist institution? "Philosophically, I get what they're saying," says Elly Thomas, who married her partner of 20 years, Cynthia O'Neill, in Provincetown on May 27. "But even if you spurn marriage, you do want your partner to get your 401K [if you die] without some big chunk taken out of it." Because she and O'Neill have two grown daughters, she adds, their marriage "is not just protecting each other, it's protecting a family tree."
Marriage's biggest supporters, Ouellet says, are older couples, the gays and lesbians who pioneered Provincetown's freedoms and are now its backbone: "They are the ones who suffered in the closet for many years. They're the ones saying, 'We want equal rights now, and we're not going to wait any longer.'"
Ouellet, a retail store manager and marriage equality activist who declines to give his age, is one of those people: An Army veteran, he spent 25 years in a heterosexual marriage. "I always knew I was gay," he says, "but because I was Catholic, I got married. And then we had [our daughter] Jennifer, and I just could not leave my family. Once she got out of high school, then I just came out. I was the vice president of a bank, and I came here and started working a very minimal job in a guesthouse. But I was the happiest I had ever been."
Not long after, he met Kaminski at a Provincetown dance. Within a year, Kaminski proposed: "I surprised him with a diamond ring on Christmas Eve and asked him to marry me in front of our family and friends and his ex-wife and daughter." In 1999 the couple had a lavish commitment ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Church, complete with buffet dinner and band. "This [wedding] is more low-key," Ouellet says. "Making it legal was the most important thing."
Low-key or not, it brought all the trappings of a marriage, says the Reverend Haywood, who presided at both ceremonies. "Seeing these guys go through the anxiety attacks and the excitement and making out lists, setting up the yard, having friends come over--it was family," she says. "It was great to have that kind of happiness in a world that is so imperfect and bruised at the moment."
Like Kaminski and Ouellet, Boston couple James and Paul Montgomery-Hyde also had a commitment ceremony in Provincetown five years ago, marking their sixth year together and legally combining their last names. Their 125 guests more than filled the Fairbanks Inn, where they returned on May 23 to have another ceremony. This time, only four last-minute guests were present--James's parents and Paul's lesbian sister and her fiancee--but the resulting union is recognized by their home state.
Like many American gays, the Montgomery-Hydes long thought Vermont-style civil rations were what same-sex couples should be fighting for. "It wasn't until about two years ago that someone started talking about how civil unions really do create second-class citizenship," says Paul, a real estate consultant who also works for Boston based gay newspaper Bay Windows. "It really went"--he snaps his fingers--"in my head."
"It's amazing some of the benefits we have access to now," says James, who works in human resources for the state of Massachusetts. "Paul can get health insurance through me. It's going to save us thousands of dollars a year, mad that's just one thing."
Although they're planning a big reception for friends and family for October 2, the Montgomery-Hydes decided to get married immediately after licenses began being issued, fearing some legal maneuver might halt the weddings. After getting their license in Boston and being told they could marry three days "later "in Room 619," Paul recalls, "we both came home from work that night and said, 'We should go hack to Provincetown.'"
Gov. Mitt Romney's fevered opposition to marriage equality in his state also factored into Kaminski and Ouellet's plans. They scheduled a grand reception for June 5 but "bumped the wedding up to the first week of our equality," Ouellet says, "because I don't trust the president or the governor."
The governor has so far achieved one major victory against same-sex marriage: blanket, enforcement of a 1913 state law forbidding licenses to couples who cannot get legally married in their home state--a law passed to prevent interracial marriages between individuals front states with miscegenation laws. Several towns at first vowed to defy that previously forgotten statute, but all eventually buckled under the governor's threat of legal consequences. Provincetown was the last to give in, on May 26.
That allowed just enough time for Florida residents Brian Crawford and Horst Glamsch to fly into Massachusetts, apply for a waiver of the store's waiting period from a judge in Barnstable, get a license at the Provincetown City Hall, and have a catered ceremony on May 23 at the Martin House, a restaurant owned by a friend. The couple had met at a Provincetown cafe and had their first date exactly 23 years earlier--to the day. "The fact that we met here and also the fact that there are so many truly enlightened people here, gay and straight, made it the obvious choice for us to commit for life and maybe change history," says Craw ford. "It's a magical place."
The magic peaked that afternoon, as an impromptu wedding procession, complete with a limo dragging tin cans, paraded down narrow Commercial Street, the town's main drag. "It was awesome!" says Glamsch, who watched from the front of the Somerset House Inn, where he and Crawford were staying with two friends from Maine who'd flown in for their wedding. "We ran out to wave and clap for the newlyweds."
Four days later, Thomas and O'Neill staged their own six-car procession--including their entire extended family--after their wedding ceremony. "When we drove by this one outdoor cafe, the entire cafe stood up and cheered," Thomas recalls. Looking back at the car driven by their older daughter, Heather, "we could see her crying as we drove through the town. It was just amazing."
That's exactly why Thomas and O'Neill--who have homes in Becket, Mass., and New York City--chose Provincetown for their wedding. They wanted "people around us who would be joyous," Thomas says. But will the same-sex marriage parade come to other Main Streets USA? Massachusetts resident Judith Todd-McNichol believes it will. "I think, slowly, it's going to move west, like the Pilgrims," says the professional gardener and part-time justice of the peace, who married 10 same-sex couples in the first week after May 17. "The first place the Pilgrims landed was Provincetown, This is a new adventure."
Additional reporting: Ryan MacDonald
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|Author:||Steele, Bruce C.|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Jul 6, 2004|
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