American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Blog

10 years ago, a historic decision brought marriage equality to Massachusetts

Ten years ago today, a historic decision was issued which brought marriage equality to the first state in the nation.  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled:

“The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”


“We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.”

The historic decision, authored by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, was the final result of a case brought by seven gay and lesbian couples who lived in the state. They were represented by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, an organization that has played a critical role in securing marriage equality in the Northeast and dismantling the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in federal court. The organization’s Mary Bunato argued the case.

As the Associate Press notes today, because it was first state with marriage equality, Massachusetts set in motion the historic gains we’ve seen in recent years:

In the decade since the highest court in Massachusetts issued its landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 14 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized it, with Illinois poised to become the 16th in a few days.

Such gains were considered almost impossible before Massachusetts opened the door on Nov. 18, 2003, with a Supreme Judicial Court ruling that declared a ban on gay marriages unconstitutional. Opponents made doomsday predictions about how gay marriage would damage traditional marriage and lead to problems with children raised in same-sex households.