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Popular Topics in The Arts
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Celebrating Ten Years of Marriage Equality
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 05/17/14
Last updated on: 05/17/14
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On May 17, 2014, we celebrate ten years of marriage equality in Massachusetts, where the first legal same-sex marriages in the United States were performed as a result of a historic decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. The breakthrough came in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which was argued by Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) on behalf of seven gay and lesbian couples who had been denied marriage licenses.

In a 4-3 decision written by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, the court declared in August 2003 that "Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations." The majority concluded that the arbitrary exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage arbitrarily deprives them "of membership in one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions. That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under law."

After a great deal of wrangling, the Massachusetts Legislature attempted to subvert the ruling by rushing through a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage but institute civil unions. Such state constitutional amendments had previously nullified court rulings in favor of the right to marry in Hawaii and Alaska, but in Massachusetts the process required that the amendment be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be presented to the voters for ratification. Hence, the proposed constitutional amendment could not prevent the marriages.

In addition, Governor Mitt Romney attempted to block implementation of the mandate by a series of questionable tactics that, to his great frustration, ultimately failed.

On May 17, 2004, for the first time in American history gay and lesbian couples entered into legal matrimony.

Although the victory in Massachusetts was shadowed by the possibility that it might be reversed by a pending constitutional amendment, Bonauto and other activists remained confident that once the public saw that marriage strengthens gay families, support for marriage equality would increase.

That optimism was vindicated in June 2007, when the Legislature, acting as a constitutional convention, voted down an even more extreme amendment sponsored by the Roman Catholic Church that would have banned both civil unions and same-sex marriage by a margin of 45 to 151.

Today large majorities in Massachusetts support marriage equality and it is in no danger of being reversed by popular vote.

In the video below, same-sex couples in Massachusetts celebrate the historic event.

Indeed, marriage equality is so popular in Massachusetts these days that Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker recently released a video touting his support for his gay brother, who married his husband ten years ago.

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