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After they say their 'I dos,' lesbians plan fete on cruise

Lesbians from far and wide will be sipping champagne on the Lido deck. k.d. lang will treat them to a live performance amid majestic glass sculptures and tapered columns in the elegant Main Show Lounge on Holland America's ms Maasdam. But more importantly, they will be married. Legally. Under the Massachusetts Constitution.

 

That's the vision of Olivia, a lesbian-themed travel company that has booked the cruise ship and is making arrangements for a precruise marriage ceremony in Boston next summer for as many as 1,200 lesbians.

"The Massachusetts Supreme Court's landmark ruling paves the way for us to start our cruise with a romantic, legal wedding in Boston," Olivia's website states. "With k.d. lang serenading us on board with special performances in Boston and Provincetown, and a week sailing to gorgeous, lesbian-friendly Montreal, it's truly the ultimate honeymoon."

The ceremony is slated for July 3, three weeks before the Democratic National Convention and roughly 48 days after the Supreme Judicial Court's decision to allow same-sex marriage is scheduled to go into effect.

"When the ruling came out, it became very clear to us, this was a chance for us to help make a statement," Olivia founder and president Judy Dlugacz said in an interview yesterday. "We're very excited. It's going to be one of the most exhilarating, fun, and deeply meaningful events."

But the planned mass wedding ceremony and cruise, scheduled to be announced publicly today, has drawn criticism in Massachusetts from opponents of gay and lesbian marriage, who say the tour package is premature and destructive.

"I regret that our state may now be known as the place for this type of activity," said Ronald A. Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. "It doesn't make me proud of Massachusetts."

Crews has been lobbying state legislators to find a way to detour the SJC's Nov. 18 decision, which is scheduled to take effect in mid-May. Institute members now may turn some of their attention toward Holland America Line Inc, Crews said, to let the company know they "don't appreciate this type of encouragement."

Others fear the lesbian wedding and honeymoon package is a sign of things to come -- of when the state will be "overrun" by gays and lesbians from across the nation who want to tie the knot.

"This is going to be like the starting gun of something you've never seen," said Brian Camenker, head of the Waltham-based Parents Rights Coalition. "If this is happening three weeks after the decision, what are you going to see in three months?"

But same-sex marriage advocates said Camenker and Crews are using the Olivia event as an opportunity to frighten people.

"I think that the right-wing is fearmongering in its attempt to say Massachusetts is going to be overrun," said Valerie Fein-Zachary, founder of The Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts. Fein-Zachary pointed to Vermont, which legalized same-sex unions but has yet to be overrun by same-sex couples seeking to wed.

The cruise, which is already two-thirds booked, costs between $1,100 and $5,600 per person, depending on the type of accommodations. Once arrangements for the marriage ceremony in Boston are finalized, passengers who want to participate will be charged extra for that portion of the tour.

Olivia has been organizing lesbian cruises and resort trips since 1989, and founder Dlugacz has officiated at hundreds of commitment ceremonies during those getaways. She said marriage in Massachusetts is a natural step forward in expanding her company's offerings to its customers.

When she first began organizing lesbian tours, Dlugacz said, few resorts or cruise lines would rent to Olivia. "Every cruise line I went to, I had to really work to teach them not to be afraid," she recalled.

After 14 years of "creating freedom" for lesbian travelers, Dlugacz said she has no plans to back down on her plans for July's wedding ceremony and honeymoon cruise. "There's always the sour grapes," she said. "I don't believe we've ever shied away from doing what we feel is right."

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com

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