On Thursday, May 16, Massachusetts gay couples and their families celebrated the ninth anniversary of the freedom to marry in Massachusetts by making a call for marriage equality nationwide. The event, co-sponsored by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and the Respect for Marriage Coalition was held in the Boston Public Garden and featured plaintiffs from both the Goodridge case, which established marriage equality in the Bay State and the ongoing litigation challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to allow loving, committed same-sex couples to enter into marriage. Nearly a decade after the MA Supreme Judicial Court issued its landmark Goodridge ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering two historic cases that will impact same-sex couples across the country. The two cases—one challenging California’s ban on the freedom to marry, and the other seeking an end to DOMA—are fundamentally about whether gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to the same freedoms and Constitutional rights as everyone else.
“Today, as we celebrate these marriages and the thousands that followed, we’re at a critical turning point,” said Boston Mayor Tom Menino. “The United States Supreme Court now has the opportunity to do what our own Supreme Judicial Court did in the Goodridge decision. It has the chance – and I would say the obligation – to end the discrimination still faced by gay and lesbian couples across the country who simply want to marry the person they love.”
“On May 17, 2004, we never could have imagined that the joy we were feeling would soon spread to so many other states where people can now marry,” said Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders Executive Director Lee Swislow. “We’re hopeful that all LGBT people in the U.S. can soon marry the person they love – and be recognized fully by our federal government.”
"Today is such a joyous day, for Michael and me, and for thousands of other Massachusetts couples," said Ricardo Rodriguez of Boston who is married to Michael Kelley, a former top aide to Mayor Menino. "The Mayor played such a leadership role for our city and state on this basic matter of love and equality, and we're so grateful. But none of us will rest until everyone can marry the person they love, and our marriages are respected by the federal government. That's why these cases are so critical, and why today reminds us that Massachusetts began this national journey of love and equality and we're in it for the long run."
In just the last year, Maine, Maryland, Washington, Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota have all granted the freedom to marry, bringing the total number of states to 12 plus the District of Columbia. Illinois is poised to pass freedom to marry legislation this month. Washington Post/ABC polling shows that 58 percent of Americans support the freedom to marry, including more than half of all Republicans and right-leaning Independents under age 30.
Yet, despite the majority of Americans who support the freedom to marry and recent momentum in state legislatures around the country, 38 states still do not allow same-sex couples to marry. The federal government also does not recognize legally married same-sex couples because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The law, passed by congress in 1996, denies legally married same-sex couples more than 1,100 federal benefits and protections that every other married couple is granted automatically.
The growing support for marriage nationwide makes the two historic cases before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Defense of Marriage Act and California’s ‘Prop 8’ ban on marriage for same-sex couples all the more urgent. Until DOMA Section 3 is eliminated, gay couples who are legally married in their home states will continue to be treated as second-class citizens by the federal government. The court also has the opportunity to strike down discriminatory and unconstitutional laws like Prop 8 that explicitly prohibit gay Americans from exercising their fundamental freedom to marry. For these reasons, a broad range of marriage supporters – including 214 members of Congress, 131 top Republicans, more than 300 leading companies, 30 former military and defense officials, and dozens of religious, labor, legal, and family health organizations – filed amicus briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of same-sex couples.
The Respect for Marriage Coalition is a partnership of more than 100 civil rights, faith, health, labor, business, legal, LGBT, student, and women's organizations working together to end the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and grow support for the freedom to marry. The Coalition is co-chaired by Freedom to Marry and the Human Rights Campaign.