NORTHAMPTON - With a total of more than 100 years together in their relationships, nine lesbian couples exchanged wedding vows simultaneously Saturday morning at the Northampton Center for the Arts.
Sally Masters, a Justice of the Peace from Easthampton, presided free of charge, while the Center for the Arts donated its ballroom for the ceremony.
With a cheering group of friends and relatives behind them, the 18 women formed a wide semicircle around Masters, who declared, "Love is alive and well in Northampton, Massachusetts."
In a brief speech Masters said, "It lifts our spirit to be in the presence of over 100 years of love." Three of the couples have been together for more than 20 years, she said.
She said the women were marrying "first, because you love each other, and second, because you finally can!" The reference to the May 17 legalization of same-sex marriages prompted a huge round of applause from the audience.
The couples then faced each other, exchanged vows and were pronounced legally married.
"We've had time to think this over," said Deborah Levenson, who, after 21 years together, married Pennie Marcus.
The Northampton couple were joined in a civil union in Vermont two years ago. But they said marriage is more meaningful, in part because in a civil union "as soon as we got to the border [of Vermont] the benefits of marriage drop away," Levenson said.
"Marriage is the whole enchilada, Levenson said, laughing. She credited the couple's longevity to their "patience to work things through."
They agreed that the group wedding made sense because "in addition to being a private matter, this is a public moment," said Levenson.
Jamie Caplan and Jennifer DiGrazia of Northampton also enjoyed the solidarity of the group service. "It felt important to do it as part of a group," DiGrazia said. The couple will have a private ceremony later, she said.
DiGrazia, a University of Massachusetts graduate student, and Caplan, an emergency management consultant, stood in line for four hours on Monday to apply for a marriage license.
"There's something really solid between us," DiGrazia said.
"We were looking for love and it just fell in our lap," said Ellen Gooch, with her spouse, Victoria Capon, both of Pittsfield.
"It feels like a privilege," said Gooch.
"I hope it can continue and this state can set precedents for other states," Capon said.
The couple plan to have a private service at North Congregational Church in Amherst.
After the ceremony, Masters said she was "honored and blessed" to have married the 18 women.
"It's really significant to me to know I can in some way legally validate the relationship of these couples," Masters said.
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