On second anniversary of marriage equality ruling, Goodridge supporters urge renewed legal effort

Issue June 2006 By Bill Archambeault

More than 100 people on May 17 recognized the second anniversary of the Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark ruling in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health allowing same-sex couples to marry.

The recognition was part of an event held at Suffolk University Law School in Boston that was sponsored by the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association and the Women’s Bar Association’s Rosa Parks Committee.

Mary L. Bonauto, the plaintiffs’ counsel in Goodridge and the featured speaker, talked about the tremendous opportunity awaiting supporters of marriage equality, as well as the setbacks and hurdles threatening the movement nationwide.

For more than 15 years, Bonauto has been the civil rights project director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, where she has litigated in state and federal courts. Prior to the Goodridge case, she and Vermont co-counsel also had a victory in Baker v. State of Vermont, which led to the creation of civil unions in Vermont.

Ellen J. Zucker, an attorney who sits on the WBA’s board of directors, opened the event by asking the audience to recall the “ugly legal scurrying” in the days before May 17, 2004.

“By May 16, in the middle of the day, there were already lines of people. For the first time in this nation, same-sex couples lined up to get the papers needed to get married. It was remarkable for those of us who were lucky enough to be there.”

Zucker emphasized the struggles that led up to SJC’s decision.

“It happened through courage, it happened through organization and through a hell of a lot of smarts,” she said. “Tonight, I welcome you to the anniversary and I welcome you to the work ahead.”

MBA President-Elect and Post-Goodridge Task Force Chair Mark D. Mason said he and his fellow MBA officers were proud to celebrate the anniversary.

“We are united as attorneys to the fundamental equality of justice,” he said.

Mason noted that one of the MBA’s founding principles was support for women and minority attorneys.

“Indeed, it is consistent with all that we hold dear,” Mason said. “It is nothing short of phenomenal nationally. What we have done in this corner of the country is absolutely amazing.”

Massachusetts, he said, finds itself in the “terribly unique” position of providing leadership to ensure that the opportunity for equality spreads across the country.

Bonauto emphasized the same theme in her remarks, highlighting the effects of Goodridge and an increasing acceptance in public opinion about gay marriage while warning about the dangers facing the movement.

Two dozen states have either approved or are considering limits on marriage equality, she said, and those efforts often include limits on same-sex couples adopting children and other benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

She predicts it will take 15 to 25 years before marriage equality is universal. But, she insisted, “We’re going to win. It’s inevitable.”

The best way to win support for marriage equality, she said, is to show the impact that marriage bans have on gay and lesbian couples, as well as showing the public that gay marriages and adoptions are working and not a threat to anyone else. The effect has already been profound in Massachusetts, she said.

“I think there’s been an outbreak of happiness and no detrimental effect on other marriages,” she said.

Christina Miller, co-chair of the Massachusetts Lesbian and Gay Bar Association, referred to the Goodridge anniversary coinciding with the first sunny day after more than a week of heavy rain and flooding, noting, “It is no mistake the sun comes out today.”

Miller said she envisioned a day when gay, lesbian and transgender individuals are treated equally. “We need to build our coalitions, not only in Massachusetts, but across the nation.”