Goodridge v. Department of Public Health
|Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health|
|Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court|
|Argued March 4, 2003
Decided November 18, 2003
|The denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated provisions of the state constitution guaranteeing individual liberty and equality, and was not rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Superior Court of Massachusetts at Suffolk vacated and remanded.|
|Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall|
|Associate Justices John M. Greaney, Roderick L. Ireland, Francis X. Spina, Judith A. Cowin, Martha B. Sosman, Robert J. Cordy|
|Majority by: Marshall
Joined by: Ireland, Cowin
Concurrence by: Greaney
Dissent by: Spina
Joined by: Sosman, Cordy
Dissent by: Sosman
Joined by: Spina, Cordy
Dissent by: Cordy
Joined by: Spina, Sosman
|Mass. Const. arts. 1, 6, 7, and 10, and Part II, c. 1, § 1, art. 4; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 207|
Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003), was a landmark state appellate court case dealing with same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The November 18, 2003, decision was the first by a U.S. state's highest court to find that same-sex couples had the right to marry.
On April 11, 2001, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) sued the Massachusetts Department of Health in Superior Court on behalf of seven same-sex couples, all residents of Massachusetts, who had been denied marriage licenses in March and April 2001. All the plaintiffs had been in long-term relationships with their partners and four of the couple were raising a total of five children. The Department's responsibilities included setting policies under which city and town clerks issue marriage licenses. The Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Department on May 7, 2002, and the plaintiffs appealed directly to the Supreme Judicial Court.
Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly argued in his brief that the Court should defer to the Legislature's judgment of "the broader public interest" and recognize "same-sex couples cannot procreate on their own and therefore cannot accomplish the 'main object'...of marriage as historically understood."
In a 50-page, 4–3 ruling on November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that the state may not "deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry."
Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, writing for the majority, wrote that the state's constitution "affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens," the state had no "constitutionally adequate reason for denying marriage to same-sex couples," and "The right to marry is not a privilege conferred by the State, but a fundamental right that is protected against unwarranted State interference." The Court held that the State does not have a rational basis for denying same-sex couples marriage on the grounds of due process and equal protection.
Justices Robert Cordy, Francis Spina, and Martha Sosman filed separate dissents from the Court's ruling.
Justice Cordy stated that "the Legislature could rationally conclude that it furthers the legitimate State purpose of ensuring, promoting, and supporting an optimal social structure for the bearing and raising of children." He continued that "this case is not about government intrusions into matters of personal liberty," but "about whether the State must endorse and support [the choices of same-sex couples] by changing the institution of civil marriage to make its benefits, obligations, and responsibilities applicable to them."
Justice Spina said that "[W]hat is at stake in this case is not the unequal treatment of individuals or whether individuals rights have been impermissibly burdened, but the power of the Legislature to effectuate social change without interference from the courts, pursuant to art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights." He wrote that the "power to regulate marriage lies with the Legislature, not with the judiciary."
Justice Sosman noted that "[p]eople are of course at liberty to raise their children in various family structures, so long as they are not literally harming their children by doing so. But that does not mean that the State is required to provide identical forms of encouragement, endorsement, and support to all of the infinite variety of household structures that a free society permits." She went on to argue that "[a]bsent consensus on the issue, or unanimity amongst scientists studying the issue, or a more prolonged period of observation of this new family structure, it is rational for the Legislature to postpone any redefinition of marriage that would include same-sex couples until such time as it is certain that redefinition will not have unintended and undesirable social consequences." She concluded that "[a]s a matter of social history, [the majority] opinion may represent a great turning point that many will hail as a tremendous step toward a more just society. As a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, however, the case stands as an aberration."
Opponents of the decision asked federal courts to overrule the decision. A suit filed by a conservative nonprofit organization, Liberty Counsel, on behalf of the Catholic Action League and eleven members of the legislature argued that the Supreme Judicial Court's decision deprived the people of Massachusetts of their right to republican government. U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro denied their request for an injunction delaying implementation of the decision, as did the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case without comment. Other opponents of same-sex marriage formed VoteOnMarriage.org to promote the adoption of an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage.
Legislators considered an immediate response to the Goodridge decision. When queried by the State Senate, the Supreme Judicial Court advised on February 4, 2004, that "civil unions" would not suffice to satisfy the Court's finding in Goodridge. The 4 justices who formed the majority in the Goodridge decision wrote: "The dissimilitude between the terms 'civil marriage' and 'civil union' is not innocuous; it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual, couples to second-class status." They continued: "For no rational reason the marriage laws of the Commonwealth discriminate against a defined class; no amount of tinkering with language will eradicate that stain." Republican Governor Mitt Romney responded with a statement in support of a proposed amendment to the Massachusetts state constitution to overrule the court's decision. His statement said, "the people of Massachusetts should not be excluded from a decision as fundamental to our society as the definition of marriage." The legislature took no immediate action either to implement Goodridge or block its implementation and the state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on May 17, 2004.
On June 17, 2004, GLAD filed another suit on behalf of eight same-sex couples with ties to Massachusetts, but not residents of the state. It challenged a 1913 law that denied marriage licenses to anyone whose marriage would not be valid in their state of residence. On March 30, 2006, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the law's application to marriages of same-sex couples in Cote-Whitacre v. Department of Public Health, though the decision was complicated by uncertainty about the recognition of same-sex marriages in New York and Rhode Island. The law was repealed on July 31, 2008.
To amend the state constitution, an amendment needs the endorsement of at least 25% of the members of both houses of the legislature, which meet jointly as a Constitutional Convention at the end of the legislative session. Once a proposed amendment meets that requirement in two consecutive Constitutional Conventions, it is presented to the voters. A proposed amendment failed to receive the necessary 25% on September 14, 2005. The vote was 39 in favor and 157 opposed.
In January 2007, after dramatic, sometimes chaotic debate, more than 25% of the members approved a compromise constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage and create a system of civil unions for same-sex couples. The vote was 62 in favor and 132 opposed. It failed to gain sufficient support when presented to the next Constitutional Convention. The vote on June 14, 2007, was 45 in favor and 151 opposed.
More than 10,000 same-sex couples married in Massachusetts in the first four years after such marriages became legal on May 17, 2004. Approximately 6,100 marriages took place in the first six months, and they continued at a rate of about 1,000 per year.
On the fifth anniversary of the Goodridge decision, Mary Bonauto, who argued the case for GLAD, said that state agencies were cooperating fully with its requirements, noting that exceptions occurred in programs that received federal funding and were therefore subject to the restrictions of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts are recognized in the District of Columbia and states that grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Some states recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, even though they do not grant such licenses themselves. Other issues are in litigation and results vary from state to state. For example, after a long court fight a lesbian couple who wed in Massachusetts succeeded in January 2011 in obtaining a divorce in Texas, a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, but their case did not set a precedent for other same-sex couples in Texas. Similarly situated couples have been denied divorce in Pennsylvania and Nebraska.
In the years following the Goodridge decision, some wedding celebrations have used passages from it. For example:
Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.
Goodridge marriage and divorce
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