A Brief History of Same-Sex Marriage in Massachusetts
On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Six months earlier, on November 18, 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that it is unconstitutional to forbid same-sex couples from marrying. Despite persistent opposition, the ruling remains in effect today, and same-sex couples from inside and outside of Massachusetts may receive marriage licenses in the state.
A landmark case in United States legal history, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health interrupted a continuing record of discrimination towards same-sex couples in the country. In September of 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law, which defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman, and upholds the right of any state to deny legal recognition to a same-sex relationship considered a marriage in another state. By 2004, four U.S. states had approved a constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage. Public support for same-sex marriage dwindled.
The Goodridge v. Department of Public Health case began in April 2001, when seven same-sex couples from Massachusetts, supported by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), sued the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for denying them marriage licenses earlier that year. All seven couples were in committed, long-term relationships, and some had children. While Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly argued that "same-sex couples cannot procreate on their own and therefore cannot accomplish the 'main object'…of marriage as historically understood", the Court decided that the state could not "deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry." This ruling still continues to provide the legal basis for granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Massachusetts.
After the 2003 ruling, Massachusetts law came under repeated attack by proponents of a state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, campaigns against same-sex marriage skyrocketed in the rest of the country. Less than a year after the Massachusetts ruling, President Bush declared his support for a federal ban on same-sex marriage, and by the end of 2004, thirteen more states passed bans. Today, only six U.S. states allow same-sex marriage.
This above animated graphic depicts the progression of state same-sex marriage bans in the United States from 1996 up until the present.
Despite its endurance, the Massachusetts campaign against same-sex marriage has still not been able to achieve a ban. On June 14, 2007, the most recent attempt to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage failed in the state legislature. In addition, in 2008, Massachusetts repealed a law from 1913 which previously prevented non-residents from marrying in Massachusetts. Although campaigns against the current laws continue, Massachusetts maintains its unique status as one of the few states in the country that grants equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Massachusetts Marriage Laws: What the State Constitution says…
MGL c.207. Marriage. The same laws and procedures that govern traditional marriage also apply to same-sex marriages. There are no special procedures for a same-sex marriage.
Source: General Laws