HRC Blog

Goodridge, Then An Epic Battle

Post submitted by Sue Hyde, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Sue HydeWith Windsor in our rearview mirrors and new marriage equality ground broken in some of the most unexpected states, I revel in this current wave of positive court decisions. I also recall that a decade ago, we in Massachusetts worked mightily to protect and defend the outcomes of an earlier and equally important court decision: Goodridge vs. the Department of Public Health.  

As news of Goodridge, striking down discrimination in the issuance of marriage licenses, flowed across my computer screen on November 18, 2003, my emotions reeled between joy and worry. Surely, this historic decision opening the door to legal marriage for me and my partner of decades would meet fierce resistance, especially since we had, in Massachusetts, already faced down two efforts to amend our constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages.

I felt in my gut the urgent need for a strong, well-funded political organization to defend Goodridge for a simple reason. If we did not preserve marriage equality in Massachusetts, what courts and legislatures would be emboldened to follow our lead? History had been made by Goodridge and yet, I knew the next chapter would be fought on the political terrains of our state legislature, our public conversations, and on the bodies of ourselves, our kids, and our families and friends. We needed a mass movement of advocates, on a scale that we had never assembled in our state.

After helping to organize a evening political rally celebrating Goodridge, I got on the phone with others who had formed our nascent organization, MassEquality.  We sought financial support from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign to strengthen and expand MassEquality, from the tip of Cape to the top of the Berkshires. We turned to a seasoned political veteran of the successful civil union battles in Vermont, Marty Rouse. Meanwhile, same-sex couples got married, which created waves of change in the minds and hearts of the thousands of people attending those weddings, further building our base.

MassEquality dispatched organizers to legislative districts to connect marriage supporters with elected representatives, asking them to oppose anti-marriage constitutional amendments. We rallied at the State House, signed postcards, made phone calls, wrote letters to local newspapers, and held face-to-face meetings with legislators so they would know our families. MassEquality mobilized key community leaders from labor, faith groups, women’s organizations, civil rights organizations, and the business community to show legislators that trusted leaders in their communities opposed amendments to enshrine marriage discrimination in the state’s constitution. Thousands of marriage equality advocates spoke their truths, loudly and proudly.

On June 14, 2007, over three years after the exhilarating decision in Goodridge and after 18 previous votes, the final proposed amendment was defeated by the legislature and Massachusetts stood uniquely as the only state in the nation where same-sex couples could marry. Later, other states won in courts and legislatures, but the first state won after building a fierce and determined movement to protect and defend the landmark state court decision in Goodridge, opening political space for others to follow.

 Thank you to the plaintiffs, GLAD attorneys, and MassEquality's coalition of 17 organizations that helped to make marriage a reality in Massachusetts.

Read more from the Massachusetts blog series here.

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