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The lawsuit: Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.

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2001: The lawsuit:

New England's Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) filed a lawsuit on behalf of seven same-sex couples on 2001-APR-11. It is Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health. Richard Koh, commissioner of the Department of Public Health is also named as a defendant. His department has the responsibility of issuing marriage licenses and registering marriages. The plaintiffs, who have been in committed relationships of seven to 32 years duration, claim that they have the constitutional right to marry under the state's constitution.  "Four of the couples are raising children; others have faced health dilemmas. All are concerned about providing security for one another and their families but they lack the automatic extensive protections available through marriage. Each couple was denied a marriage license by local officials." 1 GLAD placed their brief online. 2

The lawsuit asks that the state issue and register marriage licenses for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Their intent is to not affect in any way existing or future marriages between a woman and a man. They simply want to expand the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

According to GLAD, "...the marriage-licensing scheme of General Laws chapter 207...contains no prohibition on an individual marrying someone of the same sex. Any of the few gendered terms in c. 207 can be read gender neutrally." 2

Glad claims that:

bullet  "...the right to marry the person of one's choice is protected under the liberty and due process protections of the Massachusetts Constitution."
bullet "Equality principles also require that plaintiffs share in the same right to marry as that of their fellow citizens."
bullet "Just as barring all individuals from interracial marriage constituted racial discrimination, barring all individuals from marrying a person of the same sex constitutes sex discrimination." 2

GLAD is the same organization that successfully argued a similar case before Vermont courts. One of their lawyers, Mary Bonauto, said "It's a bread-and-butter issue as well as an emotional issue. Many of these couples have taken every known legal protection and they have still found it isn't enough....It's a matter of fairness to all citizens of the commonwealth. It's the simplest solution...Everyone knows what marriage means." 3 She continued: "We turned to the courts because they are the body of government that enforces the Constitution and ensure that all citizens are treated equally and fairly. The action in Vermont lifted people's spirits. We felt the time had come."

According to the Rutland Herald, the lawsuit said that "Taxes, home mortgages, visits to children's teachers, health insurance, and just being able to see a hospitalized partner or child can become major issues."

bullet One of the plaintiffs, Hillary Goodridge, stated in the lawsuit that even with a health care proxy she had difficulty getting in to see her partner, Julie Goodridge, when she had undergone a difficult delivery and their baby was in intensive care.
bullet A lesbian couple who have been together for three decades, Gloria Bailey and Linda Davies, are concerned about financial problems as they approach the age of retirement. They face taxes when passing on their home and joint psychotherapy practice if one of them died. Married couples wouldn't be assessed these taxes.
bullet David Wilson was treated as a stranger by a hospital emergency department when his partner of thirteen years had a heart attack, and died. David's current partner, Robert Compton, has health problems which require occasional emergency care. They are concerned that David's earlier experience may be repeated.
bullet Edward Balmelli would like to name Michael Horgan, his partner of nine years, as beneficiary of his pension plan. He cannot at this time, because they are not allowed to marry and be recognized as spouses.
bullet Maureen Brodoff and Ellen Wade have been partners for 21 years. They seek marriage in order to provide greater legal security for their family. Their need is particularly acute since Ellen was diagnosed with breast cancer.
bullet Gary Chalmers and Richard Linnell have been together for 14 years and have an adopted daughter. Gary was unable to obtain a family health insurance policy through his place of work. They had to obtain separate policies at a considerable additional expense. They want the security of marriage for their own sake and for their daughter. They also want to register home jointly, but would have to incur tax penalties which would not apply if they were married.
bullet Heidi Norton and Gina Smith are raising two sons, aged two and five years. They have jointly adopted their sons. However, they "worry that Gina's relationship to their sons will not be respected; and despite preparation of legal documents, they worry about what will happen if they confront an emergency in an unfamiliar town."

In 2001, the Massachusetts Citizens Alliance rejected GLAD's assertion that they are only trying to widen the definition of marriage to include both opposite and same-sex couples. They criticized the lawsuit as a "crusade against marriage and the family." Executive director Bryan Rudnick wrote: "I'm very disturbed that the plaintiffs and their attorneys are trying to circumvent the legislature and thwart the will of the people by launching a lawsuit to redefine marriage out of existence." 3 The group has since changed its name to Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage.

During 2002-MAR, the case was heard by a judge in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston. This is the court after which the TV program "The Practice" is patterned.

Professor Dwight Duncan, of Southeast New England School of Law commented: "What's at stake [in this case] is the legal definition of marriage, which historically and almost universally has been considered to be the union of a man and a woman." 4

The basic question how the state should treat a couple who has met, dated, fallen in love, decided to form a committed permanent relationship, and applied for a marriage license.

bullet If they are an opposite-sex couple, with a few exceptions related to age and genetic links, licenses are automatically granted.
bullet What is now being debated is how the state should respond if the couple is of same-sex. The alternatives are:
bullet Routinely issue a marriage license. After marriage, the couple would be granted the 500 or so benefits and responsibilities given by Massachusetts to all married couples.
bullet Refuse to give any legal recognition to the couple. This would deny them and their children equal protection under law.
bullet Create a parallel system of civil unions with all of the state's advantages and obligations of marriage, but called by a different name. In this way, a man and a woman could be married, two men could be "civil unionized," and two woman could be "civil unionized." All would receive equivalent benefits from the state.

It is important to realize that, no matter what the State grants, same-sex couples are denied the approximately 1,050 federal benefits received by married opposite-sex couples.

Both the plaintiffs and the defendants moved for a summary judgment by the trial court. On 2002-MAY-7, the defendant's motion was allowed. GLAD filed a notice of appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court -- the highest court in Massachusetts. According to Dr. Ron Crews, executive director of the conservative Christian Massachusetts Family Institute, Supreme Judicial Court members have indicated their willingness in the past to mandate the expansion of marriage to include same-sex couples. If that happened, only a specific amendment to the state constitution would return to the present system of special privileges for opposite-sex couples.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments on 2003-MAR-4. The plaintiff couples were supported by "11 friend of the court briefs from many of the state's leading law firms on a wide range of child welfare, constitutional and other issues." The state's position was "supported by 15 amici briefs, most of which were authored out-of-state on behalf of organizations and individuals offering a religious perspective." 1

Based on previous experience, the court's decision was initially expected sometime during the summer of 2003, perhaps 2003-JUL. According to Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian group, "Though the court's ruling can't be appealed any higher in Massachusetts, some observers believe there's a good chance that this case will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court. They did not explain this apparent contradiction. Focus continues: "Many similar lawsuits have been filed around the country, but this is the first one to go to a state Supreme Court." 5 They seem to have overlooked the actions of the Supreme Courts in Hawaii and Vermont.

This essay continues below.

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2003: Reactions to the Supreme Judicial Court hearing:

Ron Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, (MFI) said. "This is an attempt to instigate judicial activism. Those in favor of gay marriage know they do not have the support of the majority of the public. Thus, they lack the support of the legislature, the elected representatives of the people. As a result, they have turned to the courts to radically redefine and undermine marriage."

A MFI E-Alert commented: "Marriage is not under similar debate outside the courts.  Every time in the U.S. that the definition of marriage has been permitted to go before the people for a vote, the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman has been reaffirmed." 6  They continued: "The ultimate ruling in Goodridge v.Department of Health will not only impact marriage but the family as a whole. Recognition of "gay marriage" in the Commonwealth would deny the necessary and unique contributions that mothers and fathers each have on their children.  Crews adds, 'A historical staple of family life is at risk'....The scope is enormous. Not only are the ramifications on public policy far reaching, but the essential and fundamental unit of society, the family, is subject to drastically change with a decision in favor of gay marriage. These will be telling times, not only for Massachusetts but for the nation." 6

Evelyn Reilly, director of public policy for MFI said: " the natural order, marriage has always been recognized as between a man and a woman, and children flourish best when raised by their own biological mother and father who are married. Other situations, such as adoption, single parenthood, etc., exist, but in most cases they do not provide the optimum environment. The state has a very strong interest in fostering stable biological families, and therefore it has created a favorable parallel civil status for the pre-existing social institution of marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman must remain the standard, for the good of children and all of society." We can be certain that marriage between one man and one woman will remain the primary standard, because the vast majority of persons -- certainly over 90% -- are heterosexual. MFI does not seem willing to take this reasoning to its logical conclusion and prohibit adults with children from remarrying adults of the opposite gender. Nor do they suggest that adoption be prohibited entirely. They appear to be concentrating only on depriving gays and lesbians the right to marry.

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  1. "Massachusetts' Highest Court to Hear Landmark Suit Seeking Civil Marriage for Lesbian and Gay Couples on March 4," 2003-MAR, Marriage Equality California, at:
  2. GLAD's brief is online at: You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  3. "Gay activists sue over right to marry in Mass.," Rutland Herald, 2001-APR-12, at:
  4. Pete Winn, "Mass. Battles over Marriage Definition," Focus on the Family, 2002-APR-4, at:
  5. David Brody, "Mass. Court Hears Homosexual Marriage Case," Family News in Focus, 2003-MAR-4, at:
  6. "Defining Marriage:  Goodridge Same-Sex Marriage Case Heard by the SJC," Massachusetts Family Institute, 2003-MAR-7.

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Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Massachusetts > here

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Copyright 2002 & 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-APR-6
Latest update: 2004-MAR-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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