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Where were you 10 years ago when Massachusetts gay marriage was decided?

Posted by Jim Lopata  November 18, 2013 11:47 AM

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November 18, 2003: The day that changed the gay rights movement forever

By Anthony Giampetruzzi

Note: This article first appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Boston Spirit magazine.

For many, it seems like a lifetime since marriage equality became a reality for the residents of Massachusetts. But, indeed, it’s only been a decade since the Massachusetts became the first state to allow gays to marry after a Supreme Judicial Court decision in November 2003 and a subsequent fight in the legislature in 2004.

Sure, there had been a sprinkling of gay marriage activity throughout the U.S. to that point, with Hawaii seriously approaching the issue nearly 10 years earlier, and Vermont coming the closest to an actual tide change in 2000 when then-Governor Howard Dean signed the first civil unions bill into law.

But it was Massachusetts that triggered a hurricane of activity in New England and across the U.S., leading today to full marriage equality in all New England states, a repeal of key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by the Supreme Court, and a tipping of public opinion in favor of gay marriage countrywide.

Throughout, thousands of individuals worked both in the trenches and in much more public ways to advance what many believe to be the panacea of GLBT equality, marriage. Here, in the words of some of the most influential players, is an oral history of the ups and downs of the past decade.

On November 18, 2003, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage when the SJC ordered the state legislature to open marriage to same-sex couples in the landmark Goodridge v. Department of Public Health ruling. The Court also ruled that if the Legislature failed to do so in 180 days, same-sex couples would be able to marry without any impediment.

Boston Spirit collected reflections from those who were there and who helped make the historic event happen:

“[On November 18, 2003] I was on my way to the Connecticut state house to testify about a relationship recognition issue when I received a call in my car that the SJC’s web site stated that Goodridge would be released at 10 a.m. Suffice it to say that I detoured and went back to Boston. At 10, I was in line at the courthouse to receive a copy of the opinion with plenty of people were ahead of me. I went out on the courthouse plaza to be alone and read the decision. Before I had even had a chance to do so, I received a call from then-Sen. Jarrett Barrios saying we had won. I looked at the opinion and made my way back to the GLAD office. I encountered plenty of jubilant people along the way!” — Mary Bonauto, GLAD attorney who filed suit in Massachusetts on behalf of the seven gay and lesbian couples who wished to marry. The case became known as Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.

“I had heard that it was coming down that day, but we had been waiting and waiting and waiting so no one ever really knew. I was in a Masters program at Harvard and I remember getting an email from Gary Buseck [GLAD Executive Director] saying that “today’s the day.” For some reason, that day I was wearing a plaid shirt when the decision came down and I had to go on NECN for an interview! Plaid! For two hours! I looked very Maine that day.” — Marc Solomon, who was a volunteer with the Massachusetts Freedom to Marry in 2003 and today is the National Campaign Director for Freedom to Marry.

“I was working in the Rhode Island State House at the time and I remember talking to Charlie Fogarty who was the lieutenant governor and he said, “you know, this is going to change everything ... and it did.” — Ray Sullivan, former Rhode Island State Legislator and, more recently, Executive Director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island.

“I honestly don’t remember where I was. I imagine I was in the office, but isn’t that funny that I don’t remember the moment? What I can say is I remember how historic and important it was that a court said that we can no longer deny marriage based on sexual orientation because THAT is discrimination.” — Betsy Smith, outgoing Executive Director of Equality Maine.

In 2003, Maine was the only state in New England not to have a basic anti-discrimination law on the books, resulting from a 2000 failure at the polls to uphold a pro-gay measure passed by the legislature earlier that year.

“Maine might have been a little bit behind when marriage became legal in Massachusetts, but we knew that, because we are a ballot initiative state, we just had a harder hill to climb to get those protections. We were so thrilled, it was not bittersweet at all that Massachusetts had marriage—it was thrilling and exciting. What we knew is that we had to get a non-discrimination bill done and uphold it at the polls. And, that was our strategy, we had to learn how to win a ballot measure.” Betsy Smith.

By October 2008, Connecticut had became the second New England state to allow same-sex marriage with a ruling by the state’s highest court in Kerrigan & Mock v. Department of Public Health. And Maine, along with the rest of the New England states, had anti-discrimination as well as a litany of other protection laws. On the fifth anniversary of the Goodridge decision, GLAD announced the goal of “Six by Twelve” to ensure that same-sex couples in all six New England states would be able to marry in their home state by 2012.

“We were all working together at the time, GLAD, Marc Solomon, Mary Bonauto … I thought it was a great goal because I love catchy phrases that are real and motivational and inspirational. It was so full of hope that, my gosh, we could actually get all six states by 2012! And, 2012 didn’t seem like all that far away at that point, although it was ambitious when they set it.” Betsy Smith.

“Looking back, did I believe that the ‘6 in 12’ campaign would have come as close as it actually did to fruition? Yes. With a gulp. I thought we could do it. But I knew we would have to work, and it wouldn’t just happen magically.” Mary Bonauto.

In 2009, only weeks after Vermont’s governor signed a same-sex marriage bill into law, the Maine legislature passed its own gay marriage law that April, followed soon after by the approval of a similar law in New Hampshire. Sadly, voters overturned the Maine law at the polls that November. The move came on the heels of the California Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Proposition 8, constitutionally banning same-sex marriage. The confluence of events prompted some to question whether 6 in 12 could be achieved.

“The biggest punch in the gut for me was the obvious one, having successfully passed marriage in the legislature and then not being able to uphold it at the polls. It was devastating. You know, we were the first state to have it passed by the legislature and have it signed by the governor, but we knew that it would be challenged and we’d have to uphold it at the polls. Honestly, we just didn’t have enough Mainers who supported marriage at the time and it was devastating, heartbreaking … we really thought we were gonna win.” Betsy Smith.

“When we lost at the polls in Maine in 2009, right on the heels of Prop 8 in California, we were really trying to figure out “can we win, can we make this happen. It was without question the biggest blow to 6 in 12.” Marc Solomon.

“I was not alone in needing months to recover. But thankfully, our same coalition of GLAD, Equality Maine, Maine Women’s Lobby, ACLU of ME, & Engage ME went back to work together. We were unbelievably fortunate that a committed donor agreed to help us figure out what happened and how to connect with voters on this issue. That allowed GLAD to hire Matt McTighe and his public education team. The lessons they learned were foundational for the campaigns in Maine and the other 2012 campaigns [Rhode Island among them] as well, and Matt and his team transitioned over to serving as key campaign staff, with Matt as the campaign manager.” Mary Bonauto.

In November 2012, Maine became the first state to ask voters to approve same-sex marriage at the polls. They did so, overwhelmingly.

“It’s always nice to be a first, but to date, we are still the first and only state where we have taken marriage equality directly to the people and asked them to support it, and they did. I’m incredibly proud of that effort.” Betsy Smith.

While 6 in 12 wasn’t completely achieved, it would take only a few extra months to bring Rhode Island into the fold when. in May 2013, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a same-sex marriage bill into law.

“It was bittersweet to have not made the 6 in 12, but we had an amazing, textbook campaign! We were so proud that now those couples are recognized and respected and finally treated as equal.” Ray Sullivan.

“We are all about welcoming late comers! Rhode Island may have been just a little bit late, but the campaign there was really strong and overwhelmingly successful. I was really proud of what they achieved.” Marc Solomon.

Last July, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Proposition 8, thus legalizing same-sex marriage in California. Marriages resumed in the state two days later. The Court also declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the portion of the law that barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages, unconstitutional.

“I won’t say it was a shock, but it’s a lot of progress in a short amount of time. The credit goes to so many people in the states and nationally who have been resolute in the belief that same-sex couples should not be denied the right to marry, and then coming together to share resources and research and to campaign together.” Betsy Smith.

“I’d say I’m an optimist and I believe in our cause, so I always had a sense that things were going to get better. I don’t know that I would have predicted a decade ago that things would have moved quite as quickly as they have in terms of public support, which is now 58% nationwide. I always thought things would go well for us, but, in the context of things going well, this has all been very remarkable.” Marc Solomon.

“Twenty years ago, in 1993, we were facing the disappointments from Congress and the President on the enactment of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Hawaii’s Supreme Court had just ruled that a marriage case had to go back for a hearing on why the state was discriminating against same-sex couples. So it would have been hard to believe, then, [that we could come as far as we have] because we had so few friends. All the same I would like to think I would have believed [we’d be where we are] because we were accomplishing so much. And after all, we’re right on the merits of the issues.” Mary Bonauto. [x]

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author: Boston Spirit Magazine’s daily blog brings you all of the information you need on New England’s LGBT community. In addition to highlighting local and national LGBT news, we will also highlight local leaders from the worlds of business, politics, fashion and entertainment and keep you up-to-date on all the latest events and parties, hot spots for travel, shopping, dining, and more!
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