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Cambridge endorses same-sex marriage

CAMBRIDGE -- The City Council delivered an emphatic endorsement of gay marriage last night, unanimously embracing a resolution to "remove any impediment to same-sex marriage."

In doing so, Cambridge became the state's first municipality to officially sanction last Tuesday's Supreme Judicial Court ruling that same-sex marriage is legal under the state constitution, said City Councilor Marjorie C. Decker.

"I appreciate the leadership of this city," said Jennifer Hess, 39, waving her domestic partnership card, one of more than 600 the city had issued in the last decade to acknowledge relationships and allow the sharing of benefits. "I'd like to turn this in."

The final version of the resolution fell short of last week's original proposal, which would have instructed the city clerk to immediately issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The plan had four sponsors on the nine-member council; it needed one more vote to pass.

But the proposal, filed by City Councilors Denise Simmons and Brian Murphy hours after last week's court ruling, drew widespread opposition.

State Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said licenses issued before the end of the 180-day period the court gave the state to craft a policy on same sex unions would be invalid. The Romney administration sent a memo warning the state's 351 city and town clerks not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. And the state Department of Public Health, which oversees marriage certificates, threatened a court injunction.

Last night, after several residents endorsed the immediate licensing proposal, Murphy predicted it would land Cambridge in a "legal quagmire."

"It's important that Cambridge stay together with other communities," said City Councilor Anthony D. Galluccio, a former mayor. "It's very important we allow this process to go forward."

The earlier plan also faced opposition from advocates of gay marriage, who said it violated the court order and detracted from efforts to push the Legislature to amend marriage laws statewide.

On Saturday, after hearing criticism of the proposal at the International Network of Gay and Lesbian Officials conference in San Diego, Simmons said she decided to withdraw the measure. But last night, she pushed the original plan, only later agreeing to an amended version that instructs the city clerk to issue marriage licenses to gay couples "as soon as legally possible."

The city plans to wait the 180 days for lawmakers to act. But Decker, who also sponsored the proposal, pledged to extend benefits to domestic partners and children of gay public employees within six months.

The city granted the benefits in 1992, but ended the policy last year after a court ruled it illegal. "To deny people equal benefits for equal work is unacceptable," she said. "We are robbing some of our citizens."

Benjamin Gedan can be reached at gedan@globe.com.

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