FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | November 18, 2003
(San Francisco, CA, November 18, 2003) — The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that lesbian and gay couples may no longer be excluded from the right to marry in Massachusetts. The 4-3 ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, filed by New England's Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), is the first of its kind in this country by a final appellate court.
The Court ruled 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 gave the Legislature 180 days to amend the civil marriages statutes accordingly.
"We are elated for lesbian and gay couples in Massachusetts," said Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who filed an amicus brief in the case. "As the court recognized, these couples are entitled to true equality - which means not only the same legal protections given to different-sex couples, but also the same social status and respect."
In contrast to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled in 1999 that same-sex couples in Vermont could be given the legal rights and benefits of marriage, but need not be given the right to marry itself, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that there is no constitutionally acceptable substitute for full equality for same-sex couples who wish to marry.
Describing marriage as "one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions," the Court recognized the social injuries inflicted on lesbian and gay couples as a result of being denied the right to marry. Without the right to marry, "one is excluded from the full range of human experience" and denied "enormous private and social advantages."
The Court's decision also stressed the importance of protecting same-sex couples with children. "These couples (including four of the plaintiff couples) have children for the reasons others do - to love them, to care for them, to nurture them. But the task of child-rearing for same-sex couples is made infinitely harder by their status as outliers to the marriage laws."
In a moving concurrence, Justice Greaney expressed hope that the citizens of Massachusetts would accept the plaintiffs and other lesbian and gay couples as "members of our community, our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends." He added, "Simple principles of decency dictate that we extend to the plaintiffs, and to their new status, full acceptance, tolerance, and respect. We should do so because it is the right thing to do."
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.