AND LESBIAN COUPLES IN LONG-TERM, COMMITTED RELATIONSHIPS GET EQUAL
PROTECTIONS UNDER LAW IN MASSACHUSETTS
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
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,"
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
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 www.hrc.org/familynet. For more information on civil marriage,
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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