Task force to study impact of gay marriage ruling

Issue September 2004

MBA President Kathleen M. O'Donnell has appointed a special task force to explore the legal consequences and challenges stemming from the Supreme Judicial Court's landmark 2003 decision in Goodridge, et al v. Department of Public Health, et al.
MBA Vice President Mark Mason, of Springfield, who chaired the association's previous Goodridge-related body, will chair the new Same Gender Marriage Task Force. Members include: Lisa G. Arrowood of Boston, Kathleen Earnshaw of Merrimack, N.H., Richard Eurich of Lexington, Michael C. Fee of Sudbury, Veronica J. Fenton of Lenox, Fern L. Frolin of Wellesley, Susan A. Huettner of Falmouth, Janet Kenton-Walker of Boston, Charles P. Kindregan of Boston, Karen J. Levitt of Lowell, Karen Lee Loewy of Boston, Paul H. Merry of Boston, Barry Wilensky of Newton, Neal A. Winston of Somerville and Arthur D. Wolf of Springfield.

"The task force is charged with trying to unravel the tangle of legal issues that Goodridge has created," Mason said.

The task force will analyze the impact Goodridge has had on all fields of law, including federal law. In particular, it will study and make recommendations relating to the impact of Goodridge upon family law, taxation, probate law, trust and estate planning, real estate law and labor and employment law.

The task force also will consider recommendations for specific legislative enactments in order to ensure conformity of existing law to Goodridge as well as legislative proposals to effectuate necessary reforms. And it will organize continuing legal education on those issues arising from Goodridge.

The Massachusetts Bar Association has a long history of support for gay rights legislation.

In 1987, the Massachusetts Bar Association House of Delegates unanimously voted in favor of supporting, in principle, "An Act to Prohibit Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation in Employment, Housing and Credit." The act became law shortly thereafter.

Following a unanimous vote of the House of Delegates in April 2002, the association filed two amicus briefs with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court relating to the same-sex marriage issue: in December 2002 regarding Goodridge v. Department of Public Health and in January 2003 regarding In the Matter of an Opinion of the Justices on Senate Bill No. 2715. Each brief supported the position that excluding same-sex couples from the recognition of marriage violates equal protection under the Massachusetts Constitution, constitutes discrimination based upon sex and constitutes discrimination based upon sexual orientation.

In spring 2003, the MBA formed a Same Gender Marriage Task Force with a mission to review the association's record on same-gender marriage and to determine whether it should in any way modify its position.

And in March 2004, on the eve of the legislature convening a Constitutional Convention to consider proposed amendments that would define and/or limit the rights of marriage or allow for civil unions of same-sex couples, the House of Delegates voted unanimously to oppose all efforts to amend the commonwealth's constitution or laws that would undermine the Supreme Judicial Court's recent opinions regarding the constitutionality of same-gender marriages.