Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health

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Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Argued March 4, 2003

Decided November 18, 2003

Full case name: Hillary Goodridge, Julie Goodridge, David Wilson, Robert Compton, Michael Horgan, Edward Balmelli, Maureen Brodoff, Ellen Wade, Gary Chalmers, Richard Linnell, Heidi Norton, Gina Smith, Gloria Bailey, and Linda Davies v. Department of Public Health and Commissioner of Public Health
Citations: 440 Mass. 309; 798 N.E.2d 941; 2003 Mass. LEXIS 814
Prior appellate history: Summary judgment granted to defendants, 14 Mass. L. Rep. 591 (Mass. Super. Ct. 2002)
Subsequent appellate history: none
Holding
The denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated provisions of the state constitution guaranteeing individual liberty and equality, and was not rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Superior Court of Massachusetts at Suffolk vacated and remanded.
Court membership
Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall
Associate Judges John M. Greaney, Roderick L. Ireland, Frances X. Spina, Judith A. Cowin, Martha B. Sosman, Robert J. Cordy
Case opinions
Majority by: Marshall
Joined by: Ireland, Cowin
Concurrence by: Greaney
Dissent by: Spina
Joined by: Sosman, Cordy
Dissent by: Sosman
Joined by: Spina, Cordy
Dissent by: Cordy
Joined by: Spina, Sosman
Laws applied
Mass. Const. arts. 1, 6, 7, and 10, and Part II, c. 1, 1, art. 4; Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 207

Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003), was a landmark state appellate court case dealing with same-sex marriage rights in Massachusetts.

In a 50-page, 4-3 ruling delivered on November 18th, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that Massachusetts may not "deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry" because of a clause in the state's constitution that prohibits "the creation of second-class citizens." The legislature was given 180 days to change the law to rectify the situation.

On February 4th, 2004, the four-justice majority of the court clarified its ruling at the request of the state legislature. Stating that, "the history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal," the court opinion said that nothing short of equal marriage rights would be constitutional. In response to legislative efforts to construct a system of civil unions like that of Vermont, the court said that such unions would create an "unconstitutional, inferior, and discriminatory status for same-sex couples."

Republican Governor Mitt Romney promptly released a statement in support of a proposed amendment to the Massachusetts state constitution defining marriage as existing only between "one man and one woman." His statement said, "the people of Massachusetts should not be excluded from a decision as fundamental to our society as the definition of marriage." However, because such an amendment could not possibly be passed before 2006, the ruling has become state law until then.

However, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, along with similar laws in 38 other states, means that other states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts under the normal principle of full faith and credit.

The proposed Federal Marriage Amendment could possibly negate the ruling, and the marriages it will allow, but that would most likely be ruled upon by future decisions by one or more federal courts.

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