Say you're a gay or lesbian couple looking to get hitched — legally.
You can't do it in Florida, of course. Or in the 28 other states where citizens — influenced by religious belief, right-wing propaganda, homophobia, ignorance or all of the above — have opted for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
And then there's the small matter of our federal government, which is led by a president who says he wants to do away with that pesky Defense of Marriage Act, but only via the federal legislative process. Because, you know, if he wrote an executive order, it might lead to something terrible — like, say, Change. Which we seem to remember him promising once or twice.
But while we wait for that to happen, increasing numbers of voters and legislators have taken a more enlightened route. Apparently struck by the fact that Massachusetts has not fallen into the Atlantic Ocean, four other New England states — and Iowa! — have made gay marriage legal. California was a disappointment, but the 18,000 same-sex weddings performed post-California Supreme Court decision/pre-Proposition 8 are still legally intact, and marriage rights activists are determined to continue the battle. There are hopeful signs, too, in seven other states and the District of Columbia. And gay marriage is legal amongst our neighbors to the north in Canada, and in six other countries.
No, you won't have U.S. federal rights if you marry in any of the following six states. But you can and will share in state rights afforded heterosexual couples — for instance, the right to inherit and to file joint state tax returns. And any one of these destinations would be a mighty nice place to hook up — for real. (Imagine the travel pitch: Enjoy our New England fall foliage-and-marriage tour!)
Here's how to tie those rainbow-colored knots.
When did gay marriage go into effect? May 17, 2004
Residency requirement? No. On July, 31, 2008, Gov. Deval Patrick signed a law stating same-sex couples can marry in Massachusetts even if they have no intent to reside in the state.
Other requirements: Couples must be over the age of 18 unless otherwise approved by a judge. Apply for a license — called a Notice of Intention of Marriage — at a city or town hall. After three days, couples must go back to the city/town hall to pick up the license and marry within 60 days after filling out the application. A witness is not required. The official who marries the couple then sends the appropriately signed license back to the clerk and the marriage is registered with the state. (Couples who can't wait those looooong three days can apply for a waiver.)
Sad fact: Hillary and Julie Goodridge, the lead plaintiffs among the seven couples who were part of the lawsuit that led to the change in state law, filed for divorce in February, 2009.
Happier outcome: According to a University of California study, gay and lesbian weddings have boosted the Massachusetts economy by about $111 million. (Guess California voters don't pay attention to University of California studies.)
When did gay marriage go into effect? On Oct. 10, 2008, Connecticut became the third state after Massachusetts and California where gay couples could wed. So really the second state.
Residency requirement? No, but you must get married in the city/town where you obtain the marriage license.
Other requirements: Pretty much the same as Massachusetts. A couple fills out an application and files for a license (in the town where either partner lives or the town where they wish to get married); they receive the license and must solemnize the marriage within 65 days of filling out the application; the official who performs the marriage puts the proper information on the license and sends it back to the clerk of the town where the ceremony occurred; then the clerk registers the marriage and the couple receives a certificate. No witness is required by the state of Connecticut.
The case that made the difference: The decision to legalize gay marriage was the result of a case involving eight gay couples who were tired of being denied marriage licenses and who had all been in relationships between 10-30 years, many having successfully raised children.
When did gay marriage go into effect? On April 27, 2009.
Residency requirement? None.
Other requirements: People under 18 need parental consent to marry. As in Massachusetts, there is a mandatory three-day waiting period between filing for a license and receiving the license. (C'mon, don't grouse: It'll give you the illicit thrill of having three more days of pre-marital sex.) You're given six months before you have to have the ceremony, so you've got plenty of time to plan a family trip to Iowa. A witness is required at the ceremony, which is probably a good thing — proof that we aren't all hallucinating and same-sex marriages really do exist in the Prairie State.
Cogent quote: "...just a few years ago if people were asked if we could get a judge in Iowa to strike down the exclusion from marriage, right there in the heartland, I think most people would have said we couldn't." —Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson, after the 2007 district court decision in favor of gay marriage, which was upheld on appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009.