On November 18th, The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that
same- and opposite-sex couples must be given equal civil marriage rights
under the state constitution. The ruling in Goodridge et al. v.
Department of Public Health makes the state the first in the nation to
grant same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage license. Ruling
that civil marriage in Massachusetts means "the voluntary union of two
persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others," the Court allowed
the Legislature 180 days to change the civil marriage statutes
"Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Court made history. In the best
tradition of our nation, that court ruled that the hard-working,
tax-paying gay and lesbian citizens deserve the same rights and
protections under law as other citizens of that state," said Elizabeth
Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. "This ruling
with never interfere with the right of religious institutions –
churches, synagogues and mosques – to determine who will be married
within the context of their respective religious faiths. This is about
whether gay and lesbian couples in long-term, committed relationships
will be afforded the benefits, rights and protections afforded other
citizens to best care for their partners and children. This is good for
gay couples and it is good for America.
"A civil marriage license unlocks the door to hundreds of rights,
responsibilities and protections under state law," added Birch. "This
ruling simply means that devoted couples in Massachusetts will no longer
have to worry about being denied the ability to visit each other in the
hospital, or the ability to make medical decisions for their beloved."
Key results from the ruling:
- Same sex couples in Massachusetts who choose to obtain a
civil marriage license will now be able to:
- Visit each other in the hospital,
- Make important health care and financial
decisions for each other;
- Have mutual obligations to provide
support for each other;
- File joint state tax returns, and have
the burden and advantages of the state tax law for married couples; and
- Receive hundreds of other protections
under state law.
- Churches and other religious institutions will not have
to recognize or perform ceremonies for these civil marriages. This
ruling is not about religion; it's about the civil responsibilities and
protections afforded through a government-issued civil marriage license.
- By operation of law, all married couples should be
extended the more than 1,000 federal protections and responsibilities
administered at the federal level. These rights include the application
of federal inheritance laws, social security benefits, the right to
unpaid leave to care for a family member, the ability to file joint tax
return, and the like. However, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act
purports to discriminate against same-sex married couples and deny them
these protections. Because no state has recognized civil marriage for
same-sex couples in the past, this law has not yet been challenged in
- Other states and some businesses may legally recognize
the civil marriages of same-sex couples performed in Massachusetts the
same way they treat those of opposite-sex couples.
The Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) brought the
case on behalf of seven gay and lesbian couples after they were denied
civil marriage certificates solely because they were same-sex couples.
Four of the couples are raising children together and all have been
together for more than six years.
"GLAD and Mary Bonato, it leading lawyer, did an outstanding job arguing
this case with professionalism and passion. This tremendous victory
would not have been possible without their exemplary efforts," said
During oral arguments in the case, GLAD contended that the right to
choose whom a person marries is a fundamental right protected by the
Massachusetts Constitution. The group argued that the emotional bonds
for same- and opposite-sex couples are identical and so should be the
legal benefits that come from civil marriage. GLAD also argued that the
stated governmental interests put forth to justify the denial of civil
marriage to same-sex couples were unfounded and could not be used as a
bar to such an essential right.
The Human Rights Campaign signed onto a "friend of the court" brief in
Goodridge to support and further explain the case for extending civil
marriage rights to same-sex couples under the state constitution. A
variety of other civil rights organizations, religious groups, child
welfare experts, family and legal historians and others also either
signed or filed briefs of their own in favor of extending civil marriage
laws to same-sex couples.
Domestic partner laws in California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii
and Connecticut also allow same-sex couples access to some of the basic
benefits and protections afforded to married heterosexual couples. More
than 50 cities and counties nationwide offer domestic partner registries
where same-sex and sometimes opposite-sex couples can register their
relationships. Some of these registries provide same-sex couples with
important legal protections, such as the right to visit each other in
the hospital, while others simply recognize the relationship without
conveying any benefits.
"While we wait to see how these marriages are treated, same-sex couples
married in Massachusetts should consult an attorney about how to comply
with the many federal, state and local laws that affect them and also be
sure to secure a safety net of legal documents to protect their
families," said Lisa Bennett, director of the HRC Foundation's FamilyNet
project. For more information, visit www.hrc.org/familynet. For more
information on civil marriage, visit www.millionformarriage.org
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