State’s Highest Court Says Denial of Marriage for Same-Sex Couples is Unconstitutional, Making Massachusetts First State in Nation to Grant Same-Sex Couples the Right to a Civil Marriage

WASHINGTON — The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that same- and opposite-sex couples must be given equal civil marriage rights under the state constitution. The ruling in Goodridge et al. v. Department of Public Health makes the state the first in the nation to grant same-sex couples the right to a civil marriage license. Ruling that civil marriage in Massachusetts means "the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others," the court allowed the Legislature 180 days to change the civil marriage statutes accordingly.
"Today, the Massachusetts Supreme Court made history. In the best tradition of our nation, that court ruled that the hard-working, tax-paying gay and lesbian citizens deserve the same rights and protections under law as other citizens of that state," said Elizabeth Birch, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign. "This ruling will never interfere with the right of religious institutions – churches, synagogues and mosques – to determine who will be married within the context of their respective religious faiths. This is about whether gay and lesbian couples in long-term, committed relationships will be afforded the benefits, rights and protections afforded other citizens to best care for their partners and children. This is good for gay couples and it is good for America.

"A civil marriage license unlocks the door to hundreds of rights, responsibilities and protections under state law," added Birch. "This ruling simply means that devoted couples in Massachusetts will no longer have to worry about being denied the ability to visit each other in the hospital, or the ability to make medical decisions for their beloved."

Key results from the ruling:

Same sex couples in Massachusetts who choose to obtain a civil marriage license will now be able to:
Visit each other in the hospital, without question;
Make important health care and financial decisions for each other;
Have mutual obligations to provide support for each other;
File joint state tax returns, and have the burden and advantages of the state tax law for married couples; and
Receive hundreds of other protections under state law.
Churches and other religious institutions will not have to recognize or perform ceremonies for these civil marriages. This ruling is not about religion; it’s about the civil responsibilities and protections afforded through a government-issued civil marriage license.
By operation of law, all married couples should be extended the more than 1,000 federal protections and responsibilities administered at the federal level. These rights include the application of federal inheritance laws, social security benefits, the right to unpaid leave to care for a family member, the ability to file joint tax return, and the like. However, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act purports to discriminate against same-sex married couples and deny them these protections. Because no state has recognized civil marriage for same-sex couples in the past, this law has not yet been challenged in court.
Other states and some businesses may legally recognize the civil marriages of same-sex couples performed in Massachusetts the same way they treat those of opposite-sex couples.
The Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) brought the case on behalf of seven gay and lesbian couples after they were denied civil marriage certificates solely because they were same-sex couples. Four of the couples are raising children together and all have been together for more than six years.

"GLAD and Mary Bonauto, its leading lawyer, did an outstanding job arguing this case with professionalism and passion. This tremendous victory would not have been possible without their exemplary efforts," said Birch.

During oral arguments in the case, GLAD contended that the right to choose whom a person marries is a fundamental right protected by the Massachusetts Constitution. The group argued that the emotional bonds for same- and opposite-sex couples are identical and so should be the legal benefits that come from civil marriage. GLAD also argued that the stated governmental interests put forth to justify the denial of civil marriage to same-sex couples were unfounded and could not be used as a bar to such an essential right.

The Human Rights Campaign signed onto a "friend of the court" brief in Goodridge to support and further explain the case for extending civil marriage rights to same-sex couples under the state constitution. A variety of other civil rights organizations, religious groups, child welfare experts, family and legal historians and others also either signed or filed briefs of their own in favor of extending civil marriage laws to same-sex couples.

Domestic partner laws in California, the District of Columbia, Hawaii and Connecticut also allow same-sex couples access to some of the basic benefits and protections afforded to married heterosexual couples. More than 50 cities and counties nationwide offer domestic partner registries where same-sex and sometimes opposite-sex couples can register their relationships. Some of these registries provide same-sex couples with important legal protections, such as the right to visit each other in the hospital, while others simply recognize the relationship without conveying any benefits.

"While we wait to see how these marriages are treated, same-sex couples married in Massachusetts should consult an attorney about how to comply with the many federal, state and local laws that affect them and also be sure to secure a safety net of legal documents to protect their families," said Lisa Bennett, director of the HRC Foundation’s FamilyNet project. For more information, visit For more information on civil marriage, visit

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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