20 Years of Marriage Equality in Massachusetts

It was 20 years ago this week (on May 17, 2004, to be exact), that the first marriage licenses were issued by cities and towns across Massachusetts for same-sex couples.

 The marriage licenses were precipitated by the decision by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court in November in the Goodridge case, which declared that same sex couples were entitled to the same legal protections and rights as heterosexual couples.

It’s hard to imagine, with 20/20 hindsight, that marriage equality ever was an issue. There is not — and never has been — a justification for not allowing two adults to marry the person of their choosing in order to enjoy the legal status and privileges that marriage conveys.

But back in 2004, in the immediate aftermath of the Goodridge decision, there were many members of our state legislature, both Democrats and Republicans, who were talking of holding a Constitutional Convention in order to amend the state constitution to allow same-sex couples to have only so-called civil unions, not full marriage.

Massachusetts was an outlier in 2004 and fortunately the effort to call for a Constitutional Convention failed. Soon thereafter, other states allowed same-sex marriages and then in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in the Obergefell v Hodges cases that all states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

However, public opinion was way ahead of the courts. Modern Family, the hit TV comedy show that started in 2007, included a gay couple among its characters. Today, polls consistently show that more than 70 percent of Americans across all party lines support same-sex marriage.

To be sure, there still is much to be done to assure equal protection of all rights for our fellow Americans of the LGTBQIA+  community. But it is worth noting the events of 20 years ago to acknowledge the momentous changes that have taken place in the course of one generation.

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