Getting married in Provincetown, ‘gayest place on earth,’ 10 years after it became legal

For Gary and Ned Monroe-Sabatini, their marriage has been two decades in the making.

“I, personally, am a little nervous. We’ve been together for 19 years and nothing is going to change other than the piece of paper,” says Gary, minutes after filing the necessary paperwork that will make his 19 year partnership legal in the state of Massachusetts.

More importantly, says Ned, the marriage certificate is the peace of mind and security he’s been wanting for their two teenage children as both he and his partner get older.

“God forbid, something happened to Gary or myself, our family is going to be protected,” explains Ned.

It’s a protection that was made possible 10 years ago, when Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to walk down the aisle. On May 17, 2004, hundreds of couples lined city halls across the state, to finally make their partnerships legal.

Walt Weiss (L) and partner Robert Napolitano (R), of New York City, celebrate after receiving their marriage license at Town Hall May 17, 2004 in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Photo by William B. Plowman/Getty Images

“I just remember a sea of people, out by town hall and it was pretty much all around the building and everyone kissing and people coming out with their marriage licenses and it was such a celebration,” says Darlene Van Alstyne, who had moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts with her partner just two months before the historic date. “I just remember the overwhelming feeling of joy, like everyone was best friends immediately on that day and it was such a happy day for everyone.”

It was particularly historic for the seaside resort of Provincetown that since the turn of the century has served as a safe haven for LGBT couples from around the world. On May 17th alone, 157 licenses were issued compared to the 34 licenses issued to solely heterosexual couples the previous year.

Since 2004, we’ve seen progress in gay rights, albeit slow.

Since then, 20 states and Washington D.C. have made same-sex nuptials legal. President Obama became the first president to express support for marriage equality and currently 59% of the nation is in favor of gay marriage, an all-time high.

“In my opinion, Provincetown is the gayest place on earth, so people do come here for that and a lot of people come here because they don’t have gay marriage legalized in their towns or states,” explains Van Alstyne.

And issuing licenses to out-of-state couples has been a point of pride for the city’s town hall officials. Ten years ago, Ptown city officials refused to follow then Gov. Mitt Romney’s order to limit marriage licenses to in-state couples. In fact, over a quarter of the marriage licenses that day were given to non-Massachusetts residents.

“There were days where I actually had to take days off from my real job, so that I could perform ceremonies. There were days where I did seven in one day,” explains Rachel Peterson, a police officer who also serves as a Justice of Peace in Provincetown. “I feel like I am part of history. It’s an honor for me to be a part of this.”

As for Gary and Ned, their wedding day will take place later this month.