Newton residents Rosa Buffone and Sandy Rice have been together as a couple since 1983, after meeting in 1982 as undergrads at Regis College in Weston. At school they were only out with certain friends and teachers.

“Being [out] on campus was scary,” recalled Rice. “It’s not like today.”

Smiling broadly as they sat together inside the Church of the Open Word on Highland Avenue in Newtonville recently, the couple reminisced about their life together.

Rice said, “We knew right from the beginning” that it would be a serious relationship.

After already being together 21 years, they held their wedding shortly after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts on May 17, 2004.

Buffone, a social worker for elder care services, is also an ordained priest in the Holy Spirit Catholic Community, part of the Ecumenical Catholic Communion but not the Roman Catholic Church. Their chapel is located on the grounds of their host, the Church of the Open Word.


'Making history' in Massachusetts

Buffone recalled that on May 16, 2004, the day before couples could officially register for a license, they and their friends went to Cambridge City Hall since the Cambridge city clerk married people on the spot as the day turned to May 17.

“At midnight I remember we were all cheering,” said Buffone, who went with Rice to show solidarity and celebrate with other couples who wed that night.

On May 17, 2004, they waited at Newton City Hall for their own license. They were the fourth couple in line.

“It was surreal,” recalled Buffone.

“We never, ever expected (gay marriage) to become legal,” said Rice.

They remembered at the time there were lots of people applauding, taking photos and showing their support.

Buffone said they also “knew that we were making history.”

She and Rice wed on June 10, 2004, on City Hall grounds with 40 friends and family. Their neighbor was the justice of the peace, family members were their witnesses and even their dog participated in the ceremony.

Having written their own ceremony, Buffone said, “We were ecstatic. … Everyone was crying with complete joy.”


Facing challenges

While they were thrilled that their union was recognized in Massachusetts, their marital status was not recognized elsewhere in the U.S.

After their wedding, they attended a lot of seminars on how to file taxes and how to live as a legal couple now that the state law had changed, but felt resentment that they were still treated like second-class citizens otherwise. In fact, it was such a concern that they carried their marriage license with them any time they left Massachusetts.

As they watched gay marriage laws pass state-by-state, Buffone said, “We were just elated that we would eventually be able to travel the entire country not having to be afraid … and being treated like equals to our hetero[sexual] friends who were married.”

This fact became shockingly clear in 2006 when Rice had a stroke.

“If we hadn’t been married, she (Buffone) would not have been allowed in to see me because she wasn’t related and she wouldn’t have been able to make medical decisions for me,” said Rice. “That’s when it really hit home.”

As their 35th anniversary of being a couple approaches, the way they celebrate Valentine’s Day has changed. They decided to stop spending money on each other for the holiday and instead go to a store’s greeting card section, pick out the cards they would have bought and then put them back after showing them to each other. Next they head to the flower section and pick out the arrangements they would have purchased each other. Then they go out to dinner.

After being together for so long, Buffone said, “Valentine’s Day is every day.”