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Lawyer: 10 years after Massachusetts same-sex weddings, 'joy spread' throughout the country

Samantha Paul, left, and Tiffany Elliot of Maynard, Mass. laugh as they attend a celebration held at Cambridge City Hall in Cambridge, Mass., Friday, May 16, 2014, to mark the 10th anniversary of the first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts and the nation. Cambridge was the first city in the country to issue marriage licenses on May 17, 2004. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

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Samantha Paul, left, and Tiffany Elliot of Maynard, Mass. laugh as they attend a celebration held at Cambridge City Hall in Cambridge, Mass., Friday, May 16, 2014, to mark the 10th anniversary of the first same-sex weddings in Massachusetts and the nation. Cambridge was the first city in the country to issue marriage licenses on May 17, 2004. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - Newlyweds and couples celebrated Friday along with the lead lawyer in the landmark case behind the first same-sex marriages in Massachusetts and the nation 10 years ago.

Lawyer Mary Bonauto said at the Cambridge City Hall festivities that none of the dire predictions made in 2004 about the effects of gay marriage on the wider society have come true.

"Since Massachusetts began marrying people, the joy spread. You couldn't argue with it anymore," she said. "Seeing the reality — seeing these families who were happy and together, more secure and everyone else was just fine — really made all the difference."

Irma and Angela Bauer-Levesque recalled going out to dinner and being swept up in the excitement as they passed city hall 10 years ago. Officials had decided to begin marrying couples at midnight.

"We kind of got sucked into the crowd and found the end of the line. We were the 250th in line," said Irma Bauer-Levesque. "Of course, it was a huge party. We remember being quite overwhelmed by it all."

The Cambridge couple — surrounded by balloons, music, cake and a guitarists singing Cuban love songs — ended up getting their marriage license at 4:20 in the morning.

"One of the most amazing things was when we walked out, there were still over 100 people out there congratulating us," Angela Bauer-Levesque said. They held their marriage ceremony about three weeks later.

The festivities gave couples who tied the knot during that first flood of marriages a decade ago a chance to renew their vows. They were joined by elected officials and well-wishers.

But as joyful as it was, the event paled in comparison to the overnight marriage festival in 2004 when hundreds of couples and thousands of their supporters flooded the hall, spilling out onto the sloping lawn and forcing police to shut down Massachusetts Avenue, the main thoroughfare in front of the building.

That moment, made possible by the landmark decision by Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court, marked a watershed in the debate over gay marriage for the country.

Since then, 17 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage. Judges in seven other states have struck down bans on gay marriage, though officials are appealing.

Opposition remains stiff in many places, and critics are quick to note that most states still don't allow same-sex marriage.

But in Massachusetts, the question of gay marriage has become less of a political touchstone and more of a personal milestone.

That's true for Scott Bechaz, 44, and Carlos Franca, 46, of New Bedford, who decided to use Friday's anniversary to take their vows.

"We were supposed to get married in June, and so we're actually moving it up just to marry here at the anniversary because this is pivotal for our community," said Bechaz. "We're just normal people who have fallen in love and want to have the same rights as anyone else falling in love."

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