CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – As Massachusetts prepares to allow gay couples to marry on Monday, New Hampshire’s same-sex couples are treading a fine balance of celebration, caution and determination.

“We’re happy for them. It’s not so much a direct victory for us,” said Brian Rater, head of the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, which lobbied unsuccessfully for same-sex marriage recognition. That, along with Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s decision to unearth an arcane residency law, have momentarily put the brakes on some couples’ marriage hopes.

Nevertheless, they are staying positive.

Monday night, they will celebrate Massachusetts’ victory with a banquet in Concord. There will be music, chicken dijon, and a cake – adorned with two brides and two grooms.

“Our own celebration is probably another couple of years off,” Rater said. “We’re mostly celebrating because we know that these people have worked very hard and they’ve won a tremendous victory, and we’re very happy for them,” Rater said.

“I wish it were happening all over the U.S. and all over the world,” said Ed Butler, a coalition member who runs an inn in the White Mountains with his partner, Les Schoof. They’re bringing the cake on Monday.

“As a member of a minority . . . you learn that discrimination is a part of your life, and that you have to take your successes and achievements as they come,” Butler said. “This one is very powerful and wonderful. It’s unfortunate that it’s not in New Hampshire, but it’s still a great achievement.”

With Vermont to the west granting civil unions, and Massachusetts to the south ushering in the first legal same-sex marriages in the nation, New Hampshire’s conservative policy on gay marriage stands out from its neighbors.

In the weeks since the state Senate voted against gay marriage, New Hampshire groups have been grappling with how best to respond – should couples try their luck in Somerville and Provincetown, Mass., where they’ve heard clerks won’t be enforcing the proof-of-residency clause? Or should they hold out until they’re sure their marriages will be recognized, no matter which state they live in?

“I think that people aren’t exactly certain what to think and what’s the most effective way for queer couples to use their bodies a this time,” said Tawnee Walling, executive director of Seacoast Outright, a support group for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual youth in Portsmouth.

For now, couples said they’re not giving up on New Hampshire.

“New Hampshire is our home and it’s were we live. It’s where our life is,” said Beth McGuinn, a Hopkinton resident. “Going to the extent of establishing residence somewhere else is a huge step” that she and partner Ruth Smith are not considering.

On Friday, McGuinn and they loaded up their blue Toyota, and drove to Orleans, Mass., where they hope to witness couples applying for some of the first legal same-sex marriage licenses in the nation.

“We want to experience history,” McGuinn said. After weighing the options, McGuinn and Smith decided against applying for a Massachusetts license, citing possible legal complications as the main deterrent. “We have a degree of patience for waiting for things to happen in New Hampshire,” she said.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which represented the seven couples whose case brought about the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling that gay marriage is constitutional, is advising nonresidents of Massachusetts to marry in Canada, rather than submit a marriage license application with incorrect information.

brought about the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling that gay marriage is constitutional

The advice is not stopping Lisa and Barbara Beelle of Franklin, who hope to marry in Massachusetts this July. The couple married in a religious ceremony four years ago and want their civil ceremony to coincide with their anniversary. The fact that it may take years for their home state to recognize their union is a calculated risk, she said.

“Tangibly, it doesn’t give us anything,” Lisa Beelle said. “The gist of it is we have the option of getting some legal recognition somewhere in this country, because we have the same ties that any married couple have.

“It’s the first opportunity in the United States . . . where we can be recognized as a committed couple who are fully participating in our society, and that just goes to the heart of being an American citizen,” she said.

AP-ES-05-15-04 1521EDT

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