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Twenty years ago today

WBUR talks to Hillary Goodridge on the 20th anniversary of the release of the ruling in Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health, the Supreme Judicial Court decision that was the first to legalize same-sex marriage anywhere in the US.

Read the decision, which begins:

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 question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth 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. In reaching our conclusion we have given full deference to the arguments made by the Commonwealth. But it has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.

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in the early days of this fledgling nation, Massachusetts was the most puritanical state.
Over the past 400, MA has become one of (if not) the most liberal states in the country.
Being the first to pass the law that same sex marriage was legal under law, and not just "accepted" and recognized in this state says a lot.

A law that didn't specify heterogender marriage was put to the test and the Supreme Court carefully established that all arguments against it applying universally to any adult couple were religious in nature (therefore had no place in law) or had been dispensed with in earlier times (e.g., the requirement that a spousal union be able to produce children was successfully challenged by a woman in her 50s in the 1930s, etc.)


Just a reminder that everything bad that would happen to the world (famines, "people being able to marry their cat", "the breakdown of the family", the Canadiens winning the Stanley Cup) by the naysayers if gay marriage was legalized hasn't happened in 20 years.

Screw those who opposed this.


I may not always agree with the things you say on here, but you got it here.


Broken clocks ….

Those who weren't present (or weren't paying attention) forget that it wasn't a done deal once the ruling came down. Mitt Romney in particular did whatever he could, in his underhanded hedge fund manager way, to kill marriage equality before any same sex couples got a license, including attempted procedural shenanigans and even invoking an archaic antimiscegenation law whose original purpose was held to be unconstitutional, but whose vague wording seemed ripe for repurposing in this case. My personal feeling is that these and other efforts ultimately failed because the average Bay Stater was more likely than those of other states to know actual living breathing gay people. It wasn't an academic matter to them, and so when faced with an unprecedented situation and a possibly uncomfortable new reality, enough people were able to see the humanity of gay people that they chose human rights over comfort. I'm pretty cynical about human nature, and I don't believe in throwing parades for people simply because they treated others as they would wish to be treated, but I feel that this was praiseworthy.

Mitt’s legacy will make for interesting reading in future decades. If readers can get past his dish water dull personality.

I always wished they ruled that marriage wouldn't be recognized by the Commonwealth at all. Let people have whatever partnerships they want but leave the state out of it entirely.


If you in fact do think gay and straight couples should be able to have the same legal rights, saying you wish they hadn't ruled that they do is the wrong way to go about it. But I doubt that is truly your problem with it, as so many other people who all of a sudden were against the government issuing marriage licenses when gay and lesbian couples started getting close to marriage equality. If you think no one should be able to get a marriage license from the government, make that case to the courts. But again that never seemed the real cause of people like you who were against this decision. And you of course have no obligation to bring your relationship to the government, you can simply have a ceremony w friends (or not) and never file for a marriage license from the state.

That's exactly what one of the dissenting justices complained about. At the time, Massachusetts had established a "civil union" which was fundamentally identical to "marriage".

The fight basically came down to a pissing match over the "M word". The state should've resolved it by deleting the term "marriage" from legal vocabulary.

The fight basically came down to a pissing match over the "M word". The state should've resolved it by deleting the term "marriage" from legal vocabulary.

This is beyond simplistic; it's simply incorrect. Central to the ruling was the understanding that marriage, by that name, conveys so many privileges that a "separate but equal" institution was not possible, no matter how much hand-waving and excuse-making the segregationists might come up with.

The essence of marriage or legally recognized domestic partnership is that a plethora of legal privileges and obligations come into existence when the marriage comes into existence.

Rights of hospitalization visit.
Rights concerning medical decisions if the spouse cannot make decisions.
Rights of survivorship and inheritance.
The right to decide what to do with the body of the deceased partner, even if the partner's parent(s) are still alive.
Add the plethora of financially related rights.

All of these rights are based on law. Law is created by the state. How can these rights, based in law, come into existence if the state is left out entirely of the application of these rights to a relationship which, in current language, is a marriage?

if there are other ways to enjoy the legal and financial benefits of marriage, without a marriage which is recognized by the state, then explain how to do that.


… designated and distributed by individuals to other individuals of their choice. This blanket policy is the state defining relationships.

...people should all be free and equal, but they're not.

This blanket policy is the state defining relationships.

As every state has done since the beginning of time. It's just that most straight people never noticed or cared because they liked the definitions.

…. long noticed.

The lack of formal marriage is also used to deny people those things for no good reason.

Contract law remains. Already people can write and update a Last Will and Testament and health care proxy to handle most of things that comes with marriage. But unlike marriage, a person can update their Will and Healthcare proxy quickly and at their leisure.

The tax benefits of marriage are antiquated and date to a time when it was assumed only one person would work. It would be best to lower the tax rates slightly and do away with the "discount" inherent in joint filing.

Marriage is an economical way for people in any economic strata to get a package of rights that cost enormous amounts to establish otherwise and also keep the courts from being clogged with any number of survivorship, child rearing, and other cases that would become common if marriage did not exist.

This was the crux of the moral and legal arguments that led many people to come to support universal marriage rights. I'm old enough to remember my friends and neighbors who were permanently partnered struggling with these things - rights to adopt children, buying houses, etc. It wasn't a workable or affordable situation unless one partner was a lawyer, and it still was an enormous pain in the ass.

I think the better answer would be enabling people to form domestic corporations with as many people as they care to regardless of romantic entanglement. It would also be good to have universal health care so that people wouldn't feel pressure to marry so they can get coverage that they can afford.


Exactly. I told people that were wringing their hands at the time and leading up to the national case that if they and others had just backed off when Vermont was trying to create civil unions that this whole thing would have just gone away. They had the option at that time to divorce marriage from civil partnerships. If there was a "government" civil union route that wasn't called marriage but conferred all the recognized benefits and then marriage was just a designation conferred by a religious entity that could have worked.


if people ever brought it up outside of discussions of gay marriage. Even if well-meant, it always feels like an attempt to distract from the actual issues of equal rights and access here.


I was advocating for it long before gay marriage became legal and ever since.

If you're not married, there are a bunch of rights you don't receive and you pay more in taxes even if you're in a long term, committed relationship.

My partner and I have an agreement to just call each other "spouse" when the other is in the hospital. But we shouldn't need to do that.

If anything, it's aggravating that whenever this point is discussed, people claim it's no longer important since gay marriage is federally protected. "It's not a problem", we're told.

The federal government is never going to delete marriage from its vocabulary, therefore individual states recognizing marriage was a requirement to codify the national civil right of same-sex unions.

I agree with your argument in the abstract, but Massachusetts 100% took the correct course.


It's funny. In some ways it's hard to believe it's been that long. In others, it's hard to believe it's only been 20 years.

What a happy anniversary!