Thursday, May 17, 2018

Today In 2004, Massachusetts Becomes First U.S. State to Legally Recognize Marriage

Robyn Ochs of Boston, right, hugs Kirsten Steinbach of Westborough, Mass., both gay marriage supporters, at the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston in Sept. 2005, after the Massachusetts Legislature overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that sought to ban gay marriage but legalize civil unions.

(Associated Press file photo)

Same-sex marriage was first recognized in the U.S state of Massachusetts today, May 17, in 2004, as a result of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that it was unconstitutional under the Massachusetts Constitution to allow only opposite-sex couples to marry. Massachusetts became the sixth jurisdiction in the world (after the Netherlands, Belgium, Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec) to legalize same-sex marriage. It was the first U.S. state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In 1989, passing legislation first proposed in 1973, Massachusetts prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in credit, public and private employment, union practices, housing, and public accommodation. In the decade that followed, political debate addressed same-sex relationships through two proxy issues: spousal benefits and parenting rights. Boston's City Council debated health insurance for the same-sex partners of city employees in May 1991 and Cambridge provided health benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees the following year. In 1992, Governor Bill Weld issued an executive order providing limited benefits for the same-sex partners of approximately 3,000 management-level state employees, covering only leave for family sickness and bereavement, far short of the health benefits LGBT activists were seeking, but probably the first state-level recognition of same-sex relationships. 

Legislation to establish domestic partnerships that would carry spousal benefits was introduced annually in the State Legislature without success. Its supporters focused on equal benefits and fairness rather than same-sex relationships themselves. In 1998, when the Legislature passed a home rule petition allowing Boston to create such a status, Governor Paul Cellucci vetoed it because it applied to different-sex couples, which he thought undermined marriage, while he offered to sign legislation that applied to same-sex couples only. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino's attempt to extend health care benefits to city employees' domestic partners by executive order, instead was successfully challenged by the Catholic Action League in court.

Same-sex marriage was rarely mentioned or addressed directly during these years. The Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights launched a campaign on behalf of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Massachusetts in 1991. Governor Bill Weld said he would be willing to meet with the group and said he was undecided on the question. When asked about "gay marriage" while running to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate in 1994, Mitt Romney said: "it is not appropriate at this time." In December 1996, considering the possibility of Hawaii legalizing same-sex marriage, Weld said that Massachusetts would recognize the validity of same-sex marriages licensed there. He called the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

Marcia Kadish (left) and Tanya McCloskey are giddy as they give their paperwork one last review before rushing upstairs to be the first couple to be married in Cambridge. (Boston Globe photo)

Seven same-sex couples represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders initiated a lawsuit in state court, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, on April 11, 2001. GLAD attorney, Jennifer Levi, argued the case in Superior Court on behalf of the plaintiffs. Levi argued that denying same-sex couples equal marriage rights was unconstitutional under the State Constitution. On May 7, 2002, Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Connolly ruled that the state marriage statute was not gender-neutral, no fundamental right to same-sex marriage existed, and that limiting marriage to male-female couples was rational because "procreation is marriage's central purpose." He concluded his legal analysis by saying that the issue should be handled by the Legislature.

The plaintiffs appealed directly to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), which heard arguments on March 4, 2003. On November 18, 2003, the SJC ruled 4 to 3 that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The court 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." The court stayed its ruling for 180 days to allow the State Legislature to "take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of this opinion."

Governor Mitt Romney said he disagreed with the SJC's decision, but "We obviously have to follow the law as provided by the Supreme Judicial Court, even if we don't agree with it." He said he would work with the Legislature to draft a law "consistent" with the ruling. 

On May 4, when the Romney Administration began training clerks to handle applications from same-sex couples, a Boston Globe report called it "a major shift from the governor's earlier stance on enforcing limitations on licensing gay marriage."

Susan Shepherd (center) and Marcia Hams (right) celebrate outside Cambridge City Hall after they became the first same-sex couple to register for a marriage license in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe photo)

On May 16, 2004, Cambridge, which the New York Times described as having "a well-known taste for erudite rebelliousness," decorated the wooden staircases of City Hall with white organza. Hundreds of applicants and supporters in celebratory dress–"glittery party hats and boutonnieres"–gathered in the street. City officials opened the building at 12:01 a.m. May 17 "for a rousing party, with wedding cake, sparkling cider and the music of the Cambridge Community Chorus." Some 262 couples obtained licenses, starting with Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd. The first to wed in Cambridge were Tanya McCloskey and Marcia Kadish at 9:15 a.m. Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury was the first City Clerk in the U.S. to perform a legal same-sex marriage. Massachusetts has a 3-day waiting period before issuing marriage licenses, but many couples obtained waivers of the waiting period in order to be wed as soon as possible.

Michael Horgan (left) and Ed Balmelli kiss after becoming the third same-sex couple to get a marriage license in the City Hall of Boston (Boston Globe photo)

Other cities and towns in Massachusetts began issuing applications during normal business hours. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino greeted three of the couples who were plaintiffs in Goodridge and said: "We've broken down the barrier. I am so proud of these people. I am very proud to be mayor of this city today." The first to marry in Boston City Hall were Tom Weikle and Joe Rogers, who lined up for their license application at 5:30 a.m. and were wed about 11 a.m. by Boston's city clerk.

A Boston Globe survey found that half of the couples who applied for licenses on the first day had been partners for a decade or more. Two-thirds were women and 30 percent were raising children. Only the towns that had made an issue of issuing licenses to out-of-staters had appreciable numbers of them. In the first week, 2,468 same-sex couples applied for licenses, including at least 164 from 27 other states and the District of Columbia.

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