Massachusetts First State in Nation to Grant Same-Sex Couples the Right to a Civil Marriage
WASHINGTON - The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today 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 accordingly.
"Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Court made history," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. "This ruling will 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."
Key results from the ruling:
1. Same sex couples in Massachusetts who choose to obtain a civil marriage license will now be able to:
- Visit each other in the hospital, without question;
- 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.
2. 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.
3. By operation of law, all married couples should be extended the more than 1,000 federal protections and responsibilities administered at the federal level. Because no state has recognized civil marriage for same-sex couples in the past, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act has not yet been challenged in court.
4. 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.
"GLAD and Mary Bonauto, its 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 Birch.
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.
For the full text of HRC's press release, please visit: www.hrc.org/newsreleases/2003/031118marr