Goodridge v. Department of Public Health

Summary

New England-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders represented seven same-sex couples seeking the right to marry in this historic case. After GLAD won at the state’s highest court, the state senate attempted to circumvent the ruling with a request to the court about whether civil unions would be adequate, and the court said no. Lambda Legal played a supportive role in both stages. First, with our sister legal organizations and others, we filed a friend-of-the-court briefin support of the plaintiffs’ claim for marriage equality under the state constitution, adding additional material about why this issue should be decided by the courts. Then when the state senate advanced its civil union bill for review, Lambda Legal again joined forces with other groups, as well as civil rights hero Congressman John Lewis, to file a friend-of-the-court brief demonstrating that the separate status of civil unions does not fulfill the promise of equality. The court accepted this argument, and Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Context

This marriage case was the first to follow on the heels of the Vermont opinion that required better treatment of same-sex couples but refused to address whether they were entitled to the privileged status of marriage. The Massachusetts court correctly ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to the status of marriage, although it needed to repeat itself in another opinion before the state legislature cooperated. But the victory led to the backlash of a potential amendment to the state's constitution to negate the court's ruling.

Lambda Legal's Impact

The Goodridge case was the first unqualified court victory in a marriage equality case, and it catapulted the battle for marriage equality and LGBT civil rights forward. In its decision, the court cited Lambda Legal's victory in Lawrence v. Texas five times, reaffirming our groundbreaking precedent in that case and reiterating the point that whether and how to establish a family is "among the most basic of every individual's liberty."

History

  • November 2003: Victory! In historic ruling, Massachusetts high court grants full marriage rights to same-sex couples.
  • February 2004: In response to the state senate's formal question regarding whether civil unions would fulfill the court's mandate, the court says no.
  • May 2004: Massachusetts begins issuing marriage license to same-sex couples.

Case Information

Status: Closed
Outcome: Landmark Case