State Laws and Legislation

Massachusetts Marriage/Relationship Recognition Law

Licenses marriages for same-sex couples? Yes.

Honors marriages of same-sex couples from other jurisdictions? No explicit prohibition.

Any form of statewide relationship recognition for same-sex couples? Yes.
On May 17, 2004 Massachusetts began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Four Years of Marriage Equality
On May 17, 2008, our community celebrated four years of marriage equality in the state of Massachusetts. To date, more than 10,000 same-sex couples have been legally married under Massachusetts law and are safer and more secure as a result of the Goodridge v. Department of Public Health decision.

First American State to Issue Marriage Licenses
On May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in accordance with a landmark Massachusetts Superior Court ruling, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. More than 600 couples applied for marriage licenses that day alone.

Marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples who are residents of the state will give couples all the state benefits of marriage, such as spousal rights to hospital visitation and the ability to file joint state tax returns. But due to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which declares that the federal government will not recognize the marriage of any same-sex couples, they are ineligible for the more than 1,100 federal benefits of marriage, such as Social Security survivor benefits. It is also uncertain whether other states will recognize these marriages when couples travel or move to their state.

Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which was brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, was handed down Nov. 18, 2003. The court concluded that “the marriage ban does not meet the rational basis test for either due process or equal protection,” and marriage in Massachusetts means "the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others." It gave the Legislature six months to change state marriage statutes to comply with the decision, which is how the first marriage licenses came to be issued on May 17. Anti-gay advocates tried to have the ruling overturned, but in November 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and same-sex couples in Massachusetts continued to enjoy full marriage equality.

Out-of-State Residents

In July 2008, Massachusetts repealed the discriminatory and antiquated 1913 law, which had been used to bar most out-of-state gay and lesbian couples from marrying in the Bay State. Now, out-of-state couples are free to marry in Massachusetts—although you should consult an attorney to determine whether your marriage will be recognized at home and please be extremely careful (and certainly consult an attorney before acting) if you live in states like Wisconsin and Delaware that provide criminal penalties for residents marrying out of state who would be prohibited from marrying at home.

Proposed Constitutional Amendment—Defeated!
On June 14, 2007, a joint session of the Massachusetts Legislature defeated, by a vote of 151-45, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have ended marriage equality in the Commonwealth. The Legislature’s vote eliminated any chances of the proposed amendment getting on the ballot in November 2008. Because fewer than 50 of the state’s 200 legislators supported the ban on marriage by same-sex couples, it did not appear on the 2008 ballot. This was a major victory for supporters of marriage equality. Opponents of marriage equality vowed to continue their fight, but any effort to begin a new ballot initiative faces high hurdles.

Massachusetts was the first state to recognize marriage equality under state law, but has since been joined by Connecticut (November 2008), Iowa (April 2009), and Vermont (as of September 2009).  18,000 lesbian and gay couples also married in California between June and November 2008 but their marriages were put in doubt and other couples were prevented from marrying by the Prop 8 vote in November 2008.  A legal challenge to the Prop 8 vote is pending before the California Supreme Court and a decision is expected by June 2009.

Updated: Wed, April 15, 2009 - 11:00:18