It was 10 years ago, on November 18, 1993, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruled in our lawsuit Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that denying same-sex couples access to the institution of marriage violated our state constitution.
“The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not,” Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote in the celebrated opinion. “The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”
The decision gave a shot of adrenalin to the marriage equality movement, opening the door for well over a dozen other states plus D.C. to enact marriage equality —including GLAD’s victorious 2008 ruling at the Connecticut Supreme Court in Kerrigan v. DPH —and this year’s Supreme Court ruling striking down section 3 of DOMA.
So how did we get to victory in Goodridge? I’m sure it’s a surprise to no one that Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto was the engine of the litigation. Our seven courageous plaintiff couples powered it. But truly, the Goodridge victory was a group effort by GLAD’s stellar legal team. Back in the early 2000s that team consisted of Bonauto, Ben Klein, Jennifer Levi and Karen Loewy. Gary Buseck, now GLAD’s legal director, was the organization’s executive director at the time. And while I doubt it’s true, the typically publicity-shy Buseck described his role in Goodridge as merely “a reader of briefs, and a kibitzer.”
Karen Loewy was fresh out of law school when she arrived at GLAD in February of 2001, a month before Goodridge was filed, and was immediately put to work doing all sorts of research related to the case, from examining the process by which marriage licenses are granted in Massachusetts – to ensure we’d sue the right agency – to delving into the differences between our state and federal constitutions. “I was immersed in research for the case on day one,” recalls Loewy, who relocated to New Jersey last year and is now litigating a marriage lawsuit in West Virginia as an attorney for Lambda Legal. On April 11, 2001 Karen made the short trek to Suffolk County Superior Court and physically filed the lawsuit. She also drafted portions of our summary judgment brief and had a hand in coordinating, drafting and editing amicus briefs when the case went to the SJC.
Jennifer Levi was also an integral part of the Goodridge legal team. Most notably, when Bonauto went out on maternity leave, it was Levi who argued the case before Superior Court Judge Thomas Connolly on March 14, 2002. Of course, she crushed it, summing up the heart of the case – and with it the entire marriage equality movement – in a couple sentences: “This case concerns one of the most fundamental of all human and civil rights and that is the right to marry the person you love and with whom you wish to share your life,” Jennifer told the Court, according to the Boston Globe. “. . . The right to marry is fairly meaningless if it doesn’t include the right to marry the person you fall in love with.”
Unfortunately, Connolly apparently wasn’t quite ready to absorb that argument, which led us to the SJC, the final showdown. Given the newness of this issue to the court, our amicus strategy was critical to educating the court about the many legal, historical, scientific and moral reasons why same-sex couples should be granted the freedom to marry. That’s where Ben Klein came in, coordinating the submission of a stack of amicus briefs from legal experts – including a brief drafted by now GLAD attorney Vickie Henry on behalf of her firm at the time, Foley Hoag LLP – as well as child welfare experts, human and civil rights organizations, historians and clergy.
And speaking of Ben Klein and marriage equality anniversaries, he was also an integral part of Kerrigan v. DPH, which brought the freedom to marry to Connecticut five years ago this month (the court handed down the decision on Oct. 10, 2008 and it took effect on Nov. 12). Ben worked closely with Mary on the lawsuit and brilliantly argued the case before the Connecticut Supreme Court. As Anne Stanback, the former executive director of Connecticut’s Love Makes a Family (and current GLAD board member) told Bay Windows back in 2008, “[Ben] was smart and persuasive and thoughtful in the way he responded to questions, and I left there feeling very confident that the decision would go our way.”
“Teamwork makes the dream work,” as I once heard an MBTA driver say to a crowd of commuters impatiently waiting for the train to empty out so they could board.
That’s how we win at GLAD.
Happy 10th Goodridge anniversary! Happy 5th Kerrigan Anniversary.
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