Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish didn't set out to make headlines when they got married on May 17, 2004.
That morning, McCloskey and Kadish were the first same-sex couple to get legally married in the U.S. after being together for nearly 20 years.
"We felt we were married already," Kadish tells Morning Edition host Rachel Martin. "This was just making it legal."
The Boston-area couple picked up their marriage license minutes after midnight in Cambridge, Mass., and received a waiver that allowed them to bypass a three-day waiting period to perform the ceremony.
Kadish and McCloskey exchanged vows later in the morning at Cambridge City Hall. "We both had a glow on, no question about that," Kadish says.
The fact that they were first in line was by chance. They'd planned on arriving early, Kadish says, "because we wanted to go to everybody else's wedding. We wanted to participate all-day-long in weddings."
Their legal marriage — and the hundreds of others performed for same-sex couples across the state that day — were the result of a ruling from the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which had declared in November 2003 that same-sex couples had the legal right to marry in the state.
It took 11 more years before McCloskey and Kadish's marriage was federally recognized. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage was a civil right for all Americans, legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.
Kadish and McCloskey celebrated the decision. By that time, however, McCloskey had been diagnosed with endometrial cancer.
"They thought they got it all," Kadish says. "They said we had clean margins, everything was fine. And then the fifth week into her recovery, she developed a cough. It turned out it had metastasized to the lungs."
The cancer then spread to McCloskey's brain, her bones and her blood.
During her wife's illness, Kadish did not take the legal protections afforded a married couple for granted.
"I was very grateful," Kadish says. "There was never a time that I couldn't see her in the hospital. I pretty much didn't leave her side for almost a year. And we were respected. It was a beautiful thing, the support. It was an awful, ugly thing, the sickness."
McCloskey died on Jan. 6, 2016, just over a year after her diagnosis.
Reflecting on their lives together, Kadish says both she and her wife recognized the impact of being the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the U.S.
"We wanted to lead by example, not that we were leaders of anything," Kadish says. "We just wanted to make sure that the world saw the most positive side of being a gay couple."
Simone Popperl edited this interview for broadcast.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It was an extraordinary day. But for Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish, it was about the ordinary. They didn't intend to be the first or anyone's front-page news story. As a couple committed to spending the rest of their lives together, they wanted what their friends and family had - they wanted to be married. And 15 years ago today in the state of Massachusetts, they were. Here's what Tanya McCloskey told an NPR reporter that day.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TANYA MCCLOSKEY: People were coming by giving us flowers and just congratulating us and giving us hugs just to say we're behind you all the way. And, well, you couldn't ask for a better happening, a better memory.
MARTIN: And so it was on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Tanya and Marcia were the first in line. We reached out to Marcia Kadish to mark the anniversary, and she shared details from that day and what life has been like since. But we started at the beginning, the moment she and Tanya met. It was 1986 in Key West, Fla.
MARCIA KADISH: I was at a restaurant that had music. And they finished, and I was on the way out the door.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KADISH: And this woman came over to me. She picked me up, and she twirled me around. (Laughter) And...
MARTIN: She did?
KADISH: ...She put me - yes. And she put me...
MARTIN: You did not know each other?
KADISH: No, no.
KADISH: This strange woman just came over and picked me up, twirled me around, put me down and then walked away (laughter).
MARTIN: (Laughter) Well, that'll make an impression.
KADISH: (Laughter) Yes, it did.
MARTIN: Things went on from there, as love stories do. They dated. They fell in love. They told their family and friends. But not everyone in Tanya's family was supportive.
KADISH: She never told her dad. I think that he was such, like, an old-school person that she was - she didn't want to upset him. The family was somewhat religious, so she didn't really come out to her parents. My parents - (laughter) my mother said, that's OK, dear, as long as you don't tell another living soul (laughter).
KADISH: So - and my dad kept trying to fix Tanya and I up. He had a list of eligible bachelors.
MARTIN: Ah, with men, yeah (laughter).
KADISH: (Laughter) No matter how much we told him no, no, no, he would say, well, what about this person? Or - (laughter) you know? It was a while before they actually accepted that we were a couple. But they did finally accept that, and they were very loving. They loved Tanya so much.
MARTIN: Is there a proposal story?
KADISH: No. I mean, we felt we were married already.
KADISH: This was just making it legal.
MARTIN: But you knew that deciding to go through the official channels, you were going to be public people as a result of that. Did you think about that, talk about it?
KADISH: (Laughter) Yes, because, you know, that pretty much outed us.
KADISH: And we were pretty private (laughter). And when we got married, I forgot that there were cameras there. I forgot that there were people there. And I just grabbed her and kissed her (laughter) passionately. And then when I ever saw it on my 57-inch TV, I was horrified (laughter). I mean, it was...
MARTIN: Because that just wasn't you, to do PDA (laughter).
KADISH: Oh, no. Well, we were very closeted at the time.
MARTIN: Oh, man.
KADISH: But, you know - and this did bring us out, but that was really out.
KADISH: (Laughter) And we got married early. And the reason we ended up being first was because we wanted to go to everybody else's wedding.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Just over 11 years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states must recognize same-sex marriages. Here's NPR's Audie Cornish on June 26, 2015 reading from Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion on All Things Considered.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Did you mark the day when the Supreme Court ruled that all states must grant same-sex marriage?
KADISH: Absolutely. I never thought I would see in my lifetime that gay marriage was legalized everywhere.
MARTIN: History was made. It was a time to celebrate, and they did. But by that point, Tanya was already sick.
KADISH: We found out around Christmastime of 2014. In November, she had gone through some tests, and they had finally given her the results. And the results weren't terrible. They were that she had endometrial cancer and - but it was a stage one. But they thought they got it all. They said they had clean margins. Everything was fine. And then the fifth week into her recovery, she developed a cough. And it turned out that it had metastasized to the lungs. And then it went to her brain, and then it went to her bones, and then it was in her blood. She was diagnosed and died almost within a year.
MARTIN: When Tanya got sick, did you think about how being married afforded you different rights than you would have had otherwise?
KADISH: Yes, and I was very grateful. There was never a time I couldn't see her in the hospital. And I stayed with her. I pretty much didn't leave her side for a year.
MARTIN: Where does your mind settle when you do think of her?
KADISH: I think of her all the time. I talk to her all the time. There were so many different memorable situations that, you know, just the way we met was, you know - it's fun to tell people.
MARTIN: It's a good story (laughter).
KADISH: It is a good story.
MARTIN: Well, it has just been a pleasure to talk with you. I so appreciate you doing it. And I think our conversation will mean a lot to a lot of people.
KADISH: Thank you, Rachel. I hope so. I was afraid - I was so nervous coming here because Tanya was usually the one who talked most. I would interject things here and there. But we supported each other, so it made it more comfortable. And I know she's watching over me, and she's right here. And that's helping. That does help.
(SOUNDBITE OF GLOWWORM'S "PERIPHESCENCE")
MARTIN: That's Marcia Kadish remembering her late wife Tanya McCloskey. They were the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the United States.
(SOUNDBITE OF GLOWWORM'S "PERIPHESCENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.