Saturday, November 18, 2017

Today in 2003: Massachusetts First State in U.S. to Rule Same-Sex Marriage Legal

The seven plaintiff couples in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health
Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health was a landmark state appellate court case dealing with same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The November 18, 2003, decision was the first by a U.S. state's highest court to find that same-sex couples had the right to marry. 

Despite numerous attempts to delay the ruling, and to reverse it, the first marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples on May 17, 2004, and the ruling has been in full effect since that date.

Here's how it happened.  On April 11, 2001, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) sued the Massachusetts Department of Health in Superior Court on behalf of seven same-sex couples, all residents of Massachusetts, who had been denied marriage licenses in March and April 2001. All the plaintiffs had been in long-term relationships with their partners and four of the couples were raising a total of five children. The Department's responsibilities included setting policies under which city and town clerks issue marriage licenses.

After holding a hearing in March 2002 at which GLAD attorney Jennifer Levi argued on behalf of the plaintiff couples, Superior Court Judge Thomas Connolly ruled in favor of the Department of Health on May 7, 2002. He wrote: "While this court understands the reasons for the plaintiffs' request to reverse the Commonwealth's centuries-old legal tradition of restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples, their request should be directed to the Legislature, not the courts." 

The plaintiffs appealed directly to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), which heard arguments on March 4, 2003. Mary Bonauto of GLAD argued the case for the plaintiffs. Assistant Attorney General Judith Yogman represented the DPH.

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly argued in his brief that the Court should defer to the legislature's judgment of "the broader public interest" and recognize that "same-sex couples cannot procreate on their own and therefore cannot accomplish the 'main object' ... of marriage as historically understood."

In a 50-page, 4–3 ruling on November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said it was asked to determine whether Massachusetts "may deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not. 
The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens." 

The plaintiffs had asked the Court to say that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated Massachusetts law. Instead the opinion said: "We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution."

More than 10,000 same-sex couples married in Massachusetts in the first four years after such marriages became legal on May 17, 2004. Approximately 6,100 marriages took place in the first 6 months, and they continued at a rate of about 1,000 per year.

In the years following the Goodridge decision, some wedding celebrations used passages from it. For example:
Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

No comments: