20 Years Ago Today Massachusetts Made History by Ruling in Favor of Marriage Equality

Author: Trudy Ring

November 18, 2003, was a momentous date in the movement for marriage equality.

That’s the day the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its groundbreaking decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, making Massachusetts the first U.S. state where same-sex couples could legally marry.

“The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all Individuals,” Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall wrote in her majority ruling. “It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (now known as GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders) sued the state in 2001 on behalf of seven same-sex couples. To mark the 20th anniversary of the ruling, GLAD this month presented its Spirit of Justice Award the 14 plaintiffs: Gloria Bailey-Davies, Linda Bailey-Davies, Edward Balmelli, Maureen Brodoff, Gary Chalmers, Rob Compton, Hillary Goodridge, Julie Goodridge, Michael Horgan, Richard Linnell, Gina Nortonsmith, Heidi Nortonsmith, Ellen Wade, and David Wilson.

The ruling took effect May 17, 2004, and same-sex couples began marrying in the state. However, some politicians in Massachusetts tried to block the ruling by amending the state constitution — an effort backed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney. In the end, thanks to the activism of thousands of state residents, the move to amend the constitution failed.

From Massachusetts, marriage equality spread around the nation — but with some setbacks. Backlash resulted in anti-marriage equality constitutional amendments being on the ballot in 13 other states in November 2004, and voters approved every one of them. The amendments may have helped fuel Republican turnout, as George W. Bush won reelection that year — even though his Democratic challenger, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, did not, at that time, support marriage equality. Bush went further in his opposition, however, as he was in favor of amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

In 2008 came more progress and more setbacks, as the Supreme Courts of California and Connecticut ruled for marriage equality — but then California voters passed Proposition 8, amending the state constitution to nullify the ruling. However, over the next few years, Iowa, Vermont, New York, Maine, and more enacted marriage equality, either through court rulings or legislative efforts.

In 2013 supporters of marriage equality won two victories at the U.S. Supreme Court, striking down Prop. 8 and the main part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996 to deny federal government recognition to same-sex marriages, even though no state allowed them at the time. The momentum for national marriage equality grew stronger, culminating in the high court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling in 2015. Given some Supreme Court justices’ desire to overturn that ruling if the right case presents itself, Congress and President Biden last year approved the Respect for Marriage Act, writing marriage equality into federal law to protect it from future court action. But the Obergefell ruling does still stand, and that case was argued at the Supreme Court by GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto, who was lead counsel in Goodridge.

Related: Marriage Equality Is Now Federal Law After President Biden Signs Act

Bonauto, senior director of civil rights and legal strategies at GLAD, reflected on the significance of Goodridge in a press release from the organization. “When the SJC decided Goodridge, it forever changed the standards for how LGBTQ+ people must be treated under law and raised the bar for equality across the country,” she said. “This momentous victory would not have happened without the courage, commitment, and perseverance of the 14 Goodridge plaintiffs. Their willingness to repeatedly open themselves to public scrutiny, to share the truth of their lives with their neighbors, and to face opposition from powerful leaders and institutions, ushered in legal and cultural shifts toward greater acceptance, protection, and integration of LGBTQ+ people and families in our communities. We remain grateful for the powerful and empowering efforts of the Goodridge plaintiffs in making marriage equality a reality in Massachusetts and beyond.”

“I wanted our kids to have the same safety and security in their family as other kids, and I believed that the constitution included us and that I could be part of making that movement toward our inclusion happen,” plaintiff Gina Nortonsmith said in the release. “I’m proud that our sons live in a world where they know their parents stood up for the right of people to love whomever they love.”

“We felt incredibly honored to be able to represent one family’s journey in this cause, and to hear so many stories from people of how this decision touched their lives,” added her spouse, Heidi Nortonsmith. “To be associated with love and equality — that’s a blessing for sure.”

The plaintiffs received their awards at GLAD’s Spirit of Justice Award Dinner November 9 in Boston. Previous recipients include Bonauto, Justice Marshall, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Urvashi Vaid, Rev. Irene Monroe, Bishop Gene Robinson, writer Jennifer Finney Boylan, activist couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and playwrights Terrence McNally and Tony Kushner.

Pictured: Julie and Hillary Goodridge

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Original Article on The Advocate
Author: Trudy Ring

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