Monday, November 18, 2013

November 18, 2003: Marriage Equality Decision Announced in Massachusetts

Mary Bonauto of GLAD is viewed by some as the lawyer most
responsible for the current state of marriage equality in America
Today is the tenth anniversary of the release of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the first decision in the United States in which a state's highest court ruled that traditional marriage laws were discriminatory and decided that marriage equality is the appropriate remedy. In Goodridge, the court gave the state 180 days to implement the ruling, issuing an order that caused marriage equality to go into effect on May 17, 2004, so that became the first date that same-sex couples could get married in the United States. The decision was released in response to a lawsuit filed by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), an LGBT legal advocacy organization, and argued by Mary Bonauto, its Legal Director.

Chris Geidner of Buzzfeed conducted an extensive interview with Bonauto about her role in marriage equality on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the historic decision.
Ten years after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered that the state become the first in the country to allow same-sex couples to marry, the once-feared concept has gained mainstream popular support, is recognized by the federal government, and is now the reality in 15 states and Washington, D.C. 
Without Mary Bonauto, however, marriage equality might never have happened. 
The lawyer brought marriage equality cases in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. She argued the case to the justices in Massachusetts who brought marriage equality to the United States. She won the first decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act’s federal definition of marriage, and the first appellate decision too — a ruling that forced the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. If there’s been a big moment in marriage equality’s long march to reality, Bonauto was probably there. 
And it’s no secret either: The movement’s other leading lawyers openly credit Bonauto for making the success possible. 
After losing at trial, the case advanced to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, where Bonauto argued for legal marriage equality on March 4, 2003. 
“Before the argument, I went up to this … law library that I used to go to all the time,” she says. “I just went in there and I was just trying to steel myself, thinking, Mary, you know, you are right. You’re right. This is correct. You are on the right side here.” 
Bonauto had just 15 minutes before the court. 
“I think the first question was, ‘Why should we do something no one else has ever done?’ — which is a fair question, and I said, ‘Because marriage is a fundamental right, [this is] sexual orientation [discrimination], and this is the right thing to do.’” 
The court agreed. 
“The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals,” Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote in the court’s landmark decision, issued on Nov. 18, 2003. “It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.” The government, the court held, “has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.”
Happy Anniversary, Massachusetts!

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