14 Years After Marriage Victory, Massachusetts Must Lead Again on Civil Rights
May 17, 2018

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14 years ago today—on May 17, 2004—the first same-sex couples were pronounced married right here in Massachusetts, marking the first time in the history of our country that gay and lesbian couples could legally wed.

The historic Goodridge decision cemented Massachusetts’ legacy as a national leader on LGBT civil rights—setting the stage for a decade’s long march to the U.S. Supreme Court, which finally affirmed the freedom to marry 11 years after couples began to wed in our Commonwealth.

Now, on the anniversary of this watershed moment, Massachusetts is one again at the crux of a pivotal moment in civil rights history: A ballot initiative this November could make us the first state in the country to uphold dignity and respect for transgender people at the ballot box.

In 2016, a bipartisan group of lawmakers updated state law to protect transgender people in public spaces like restaurants,  hotels and retail stores. But in 2017, opponents of equality collected the minimum number of signatures to force the first-ever referendum on existing civil rights in Massachusetts history. A “yes” vote this November is a vote to uphold these basic protections for our transgender neighbors, family and friends.

So on the anniversary of marriage in Massachusetts, the advocates and couples who worked so hard for that landmark victory reflect on what it took to make Massachusetts a national leader—and why, 14 years later, they’re determined to uphold protections at the ballot for our transgender neighbors this November.

Mary Bonauto – Civil Rights Attorney

Mary Bonauto was the lead counsel in the Goodridge case—and is credited for the legal strategy that brought the freedom to marry to Massachusetts. Mary later went on to argue the Obergefell case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 that affirmed marriage as a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution:

“14 years ago today, Massachusetts led the nation in extending the freedom to marry to all. We know freedom means freedom for everyone – and this November, Massachusetts can lead again by voting YES to allow transgender people the same freedoms to live their lives and go about their business as others.”


David & Robb

In 2001, David Wilson, Rob Compton and six other same-sex couples—with representation from GLAD—sued the state health department after being denied marriage certificates. Two years later, the Massachusetts Supreme Court found in their favor.

“We were proud that our beloved home state was the first state in the nation to move forward on such an important, transformative civil rights issue,” David says. “It took the rest of the nation more than a decade to catch up with Massachusetts.”

True to their pioneering history, David says he and Rob are “ready to do whatever it takes to ensure that Massachusetts continues to lead—as we’ve always done—by voting for fairness and to uphold our state’s non-discrimination law.”


Hirschel McGinnis and David O’Dowd

When Hirschel McGinnis and David O’Dowd said I do just a couple years ago, they knew their legal vows stood on the shoulders of brave families and advocates who worked so hard to bring the freedom to marry to Massachusetts and the country. They’ve experienced first-hand the protections and security afforded by marriage—and now, they want to ensure that our transgender neighbors and friends maintain basic protections under Massachusetts law too.

“The struggle for transgender rights is everyone’s struggle, just as the struggle for marriage equality was everyone’s struggle. We believe in the inherent dignity and self-worth of all human beings, and are proud to support Freedom for All Massachusetts’ work to uphold non-discrimination protections for our transgender friends and neighbors. The road to freedom is a long, long road and we can’t possibly turn back now.”


Robyn & Peg

On May 17th, 2004, the first same-sex marriages in the United States took place in Massachusetts. Robyn Ochs and Peg Preble were one of the first couples to get married that day.

Robyn knows, though, that the fight for quality didn’t end that day. As a long-time activist in the LGBT community—as a former board member of MassEquality, the editor of Bi Women Quarterly, and prominent campus speaker—she’s well aware of the challenges LGBT people face in Massachusetts and across the country.

“On marriage equality, and so many other issues, Massachusetts has always been a shining example of what it means to lead on civil rights,” she says, noting that it’s a leadership role she was proud to play a part in.

But as she celebrates today’s anniversary of the landmark day in Massachusetts, as well as her own pioneering marriage to Peg, Robyn says she’s also keenly aware that her transgender friends remain at risk—and that we must stand together this November to vote YES to uphold these basic, fundamental protections.

“Our fight for marriage showed us what’s possible when the people of our state stand together for what we know is right, and we can win this, too.”

As a prominent speaker and activist, Robyn threw herself into the push to pass these protections over the past decade. She’s throwing herself equally emphatically into upholding them at the ballot box in 2018. She says she won’t see these fundamental protections rolled back.

“Between now and November 2018, I will stand alongside transgender people across the state to ensure that Massachusetts does what Massachusetts does best,” she says, “lead on civil rights and affirm fairness for everyone who calls our Commonwealth home.”


Diane Curtis & Ellen Leuchs

Diane and Ellen were one of the first same-sex couples to marry in Massachusetts—and the country—after the Goodridge decision. Their wedding even made national headlines as one of the first married same-sex couples featured in the New York Times. 

14 years later—and now with two kids—this Massachusetts couple thinks there should be no question that our transgender neighbors, family and friends should be treated fairly under the law:

“People forget that during the six months between the SJC’s opinion in November 2003 and the first same-sex marriages in May 2004, the Massachusetts legislature spent a lot of time trying to pass a state constitutional amendment to reverse the decision. I watched a lot of the hearings, along with our then 2.5 year old son. He easily got it when I explained to him that it was about whether two-mom families like his should be treated the same as other families. Fourteen years later, his little sister is in 4th grade, and in her rural town public school class, there are not only other two-mom families, but one girl who identifies as trans, and who has been embraced not just by the school, but by all her classmates. Similar to our toddler, the 9 and 10 year olds easily get that kids are kids and everyone should be treated with the same respect. If kids get this, adults can get it too.”

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