Same Sex Weddings

Being committed to social justice issues and during a time when legal marriage was not yet possible, I was privileged to officiate same sex commitment ceremonies for gay, lesbian and transgendered couples from the beginning of my appointment as a Justice in the early 1990’s.  I had strong feelings that all relationships and unions are worth celebrating.  Those who gathered to celebrate with these same sex couples, to honor their love and relationship, formed their community of family and friends.  I was honored to officiate, affirm and recognize their relationships until such time as equal rights were achieved.  I was moved and honored when many of those couples who had come to me for their commitment ceremonies returned after the court decision to ask me to perform a legal marriage.

The Legal Background

Several gay and lesbian couples through the Boston based Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders decided to file suit under the Massachusetts constitution when they were denied applications for marriage licenses.  The issue before the court in the so called Goodrich decision was whether prohibiting same sex couples from getting licenses was constitutional under the Massachusetts constitution.  The Massachusetts constitution was largely written by John Adams, and is the oldest continually operating constitution in the world.  It is the document from which the U.S. constitution was largely derived.

Article 1 of the Massachusetts constitution states: “All people are born free and equal and have certain natural, essential and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties … that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.”  On November 18, 2003, Massachusetts took the unbelievably pioneering step, largely due to the courageous plaintiffs and their lawyers whose dedication to human rights made it possible, with the Commonwealth’s highest court ruling that the state could not deprive the plaintiffs or any other same sex couples of the right to marry under the state constitution.

Then Governor Romney tried to limit this historic decision by invoking a dormant and unused law from 1913 which stated that no marriage could occur in Massachusetts from out of state residents if the marriage would not be recognized in their home state.  This was a racist law created to prevent mixed-race couples coming to Massachusetts from other states where such marriages remained illegal.  He ‘ordered’ city and town clerks to not issue licenses to these couples.  However, acting courageously, many city and town clerks stated they were not the police, affirming that they were not required to ascertain residency or decide legal issues and so issued licenses to any couple who applied – the same as opposite sex couples.  I was privileged and honored to marry many couples without regard to these residency issues.

Chief Justice Margaret Marshall of the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth who, when speaking for the court majority wrote: “Marriage is a vital social institution.  The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society.  For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits.  In return, it imposes weighty legal, financial and social obligations.  The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.  We conclude that it may not.  The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals.  It forbids the creation of second class citizens.  That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect of individual autonomy and equality under the law.”

Associate Justice John M. Greaney, in his concurring opinion said:

“I am hopeful that our decision will be accepted by those thoughtful citizens who believe that same sex unions should not be approved by the State.  I am not referring here to acceptance in the grudging acknowledgment of the court’s authority to adjudicate the matter.  My hope is more liberating.  The plaintiffs are members of our community, our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends.  As pointed out by the court, their professions include investment advisor, computer engineer, teacher, therapist, and lawyers.  The plaintiffs volunteer in our schools, worship beside us in our religious houses, and have children who play with our children … Simple principles of decency dictate that we extend to the plaintiffs, and to their new status, full acceptance, tolerance, and respect.  We should do so because it is the right thing to do.  The union of two people contemplated by the state ‘is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully  enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred.”

On August 1, 2008, Governor Deval Patrick, successor to Romney, signed a bill that repealed the 1913 law.  In Massachusetts, same sex couples are now truly the recipients of equal rights under the law.

It has been my pleasure and I hope it will always be so, to marry my ‘brothers and sisters’ and to gladly and freely say “By the power vested in me by the Governor and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I hereby pronounce you legally married.” 

On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court finally came to the legal  conclusion that the US constitution (which was modeled on Massachusetts way back when) also clearly meant that despite years of prejudice versus a plain reading of citizen rights, that equal justice under the law in terms of marriage must be granted to same sex couples and is now the law of the land.