“It wasn’t clear the law was going to be around."
November 18, 2013 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Ten years ago today, invoking the “dignity and equality of all individuals", the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared that the state must allow same sex couples the right to marry. The plaintiffs' attorney was Mary Bonauto.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (12 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Mary Bonauto is a hero in my book.
posted by xingcat at 7:13 AM on November 18, 2013

In a landmark ruling, the Hawaii court held that the state would have to show a compelling reason for treating same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples.
I think this will be the eventual takeaway from marriage equality in the larger legal sense (and, not coincidentally, the thing that will be hardest to explain to history classes 50 years from now): This idea that "Why the hell not?" actually had to be argued in court.
posted by Etrigan at 7:21 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

So, a decade later:

15 states have legalized same-sex marriage.
34 ban same-sex marriage. (Quite a few of whom did so after DOMA in the late '90's.)
1 (New Mexico) has no law legalizing or banning it.

It's sad and pathetic and frustrating as hell that this is being fought at all, and that it's taking so long for the rest of the country to catch up to Massachusetts.
posted by zarq at 7:37 AM on November 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Although, interestingly enough, Governor Nixon of Missouri revised the state's tax codes last week, making his the only state which is now letting same-sex couples file their taxes jointly as married couples (if they were legally married in other states)... even though Missouri still bans same-sex marriages. "I just don’t think we should treat folks differently in this zone anymore,” he said. “I think if folks want to get married, they should be able to get married."

Nixon is a Democrat, and no longer has to worry about being re-elected.
posted by zarq at 7:46 AM on November 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

I was in high school when this decision was announced, and I remember my rather doom-and-gloom history teacher trying to temper all of our excitement (I went to a high school that was left of center even for MA). He told us that gay marriage wouldn't last long. I'm glad to have a chance to stop and think about how wrong he was and will continue to be.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:00 AM on November 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

Oinopaponton, your teacher wasn't so far off base for the time. Marriage was something queer activists argued about but few thought it was something we would ever see in our lifetime. His pessimism was shared by a great many. But hey, as a recently married gay guy I couldn't be happier with being so completely wrong.
posted by munchingzombie at 8:48 AM on November 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

(In the grand scheme of things, I worry a lot that he's still right — that my grandkids will look back on it as some weird arcane legal experiment from the dusty old past, like the Missouri Compromise or Prohibition. But whatever. The longer we can keep this shit running before it collapses, the happier I'll be.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:05 AM on November 18, 2013

I think the longer it runs the less threatening it becomes and more and more of a non story. The recent FPP about Illinois got all of 93 comments and 17 favs (and Hawaii got lumped in there without it's own FPP)

Mf thread about Mass

I think the next big breaks will be if a social conservative state legalizes marriage equality and/if the whole thing goes national with a SCOTUS ruling, there is no way the SC will rule it nationally illegal, and for all the sturm und drang some kick up congress isn't really going to touch it again a la DOMA II, it's either a gradual state by state loss or on big band-aid ripping moment, and as much as the SC likes to prevaricate about the bush give it another 10-15 years and I suspect it'll be national law via court ruling.
posted by edgeways at 9:25 AM on November 18, 2013

Good. I want it to be a non-issue. I want it to be so obvious that it doesn't even warrant a discussion. I don't think we're anywhere near that yet, not with 35 states to go, but we can hope.

I was in college at the time, in Northampton. I remembered everyone being shocked and excited at the news, but a lot of people also wondering if it was the best use of time and money (maybe we should be focusing on anti-discrimination legislation, for example). Or how long the law was going to last. Still, me and a couple friends went down to the courthouse to celebrate that night. It was shared confused sort of joy, like the underdogs managing to eke out an impossible win and wanted to revel it before it was taken from us.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:41 AM on November 18, 2013

Yeah, I remember when this happened. I was an anarchist-leaning lefty activist mostly running in anti-war and feminist circles, and obviously there was much discussion of the future of same sex marriage.

I was actually against it (well, against focusing activist energies there), because I was anti-marriage in general, or more specifically anti-state involvement in marriage. Basically I felt like it was a total long shot that states would go for same sex marriage, so why waste our energy there when there was so much other stuff to fight for, and ugh, marriage? Also, shouldn't we be fighting for the states to relinquish control over people's sexuality rather than finding a new way to regulate it? I mean, we couldn't even get the FDA to make emergency contraception available over the counter, like as if anyone is going to start letting us queers marry each other, and if they are, well, you have to wonder if it's a good thing.

I couldn't be any happier to have been wrong.
posted by Sara C. at 10:02 AM on November 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

This idea that "Why the hell not?" actually had to be argued in court.

Sunlight is the best way to get rid of bigotry.
posted by carsonb at 11:35 AM on November 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

This post made me decide to go back and dig up the Livejournal post I made when same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts.

Here it is:

Midnight. May 17th. Cambridge, MA.

Cambridge, MA, midnight on Monday. In the "People's Republic of Cambridge", everyone is eager for their city to be the first in the nation to issue unquestionably legal, inarguably legitimate marriage licenses to gay couples. So City Hall opens at the first possible minute it's allowed to do so.

Io and I timed our vacation back to our old hometown so that we could come help celebrate. What's the good of living out-of-state if we can't be out-of-state agitators, after all? We head straight from the airport to a party partly in honor of the occasion (there were also other reasons, including some head-shaving.) As midnight approaches, after the head shaving, people start making jokes as it begins to penetrate that this is really going to happen - we grin as we check the sky to see if it's falling; "No meteors yet!" "I'm beginning to think this isn't going to cause the end of the world after all!" It's actually a beautiful day. Surprisingly so for spring in Massachusetts - temperatures in the 70's, not a cloud in the sky, across the whole state.

Cell phone calls start coming in from people already at City Hall - they say the atmosphere is "electric". We hop in a taxi, and head down to Central Sqaure.

The streets have been blocked off for blocks around City Hall. So many people are there - thousands - that they've spilled out onto Mass. Ave., across the street, up the steps of the post office, the YMCA on the other side of the road. At City Hall itself, people are thronging the hillside, the steps. People are on the walls, people are standing in the window embrasures! Everywhere, there are cheering crowds.

There are policemen there, in riot gear, but all they're doing is keeping a pathway through the crowd clear for the happy couples. There is no violence, and no threat of violence. Instead, everyone is smiling, snapping photos, clapping. I can't remember when I've seen this many people this happy. It's infectious. People grin, and you grin back.

Earlier, there were protestors - a few sorry souls from the Fred Phelps organization carrying bizarre signs claiming that God destroyed the space shuttle. They parade for the cameras a bit, and then leave, outnumbered, overwhelmed, or simply not having the heart to keep going in the face of so much joy. They're gone by the time City Hall opens. Many of the anti-gay organizations that usually show up at rallies haven't bothered to come. Maybe they just think they'd get political backlash for it, but I like to think that even they realize just how gauche it would be to rain on this particular parade, to throw a protest sign in the face of people who only want to get married, and have waited so long for it. So by the time things get started, there are no protest signs.

Instead, there are Morris Dancers. Drummers. Guitarists. People throwing rice. People holding up signs about about equality, about rights, about love. By far the most popular sign of the evening, the one that captures the spirit of what's going on better than anything else, just says "YAY!" It passes hands throughout the night, until no one remembers who had it originally. It's everybody's sign now. A new round of cheering starts every time someone waves it around.

This is a crowd that wants to cheer. It cheers everything. It cheers every time a couple goes into the building. It cheers every time a couple comes out. It cheers a guy who comes out with a megaphone to announce how long you're going to have to wait if you go in to apply right now. He seems baffled by the response to what he thought was going to be a long boring announcement about long boring lines, but the crowd has picked up on some of the important facts buried in his words: "150 couples already in line"; "will take anyone else who wants to come in"; "will stay open for as long as it takes to get this done." So they cheer, and cheer some more.

Being a small person, I've become very skilled in manuvering myself to the front of a crowd so that I can see, so I lead Io up a hill, over a wall, under a dripping rain gutter, but its worth it when we make it to the front and can see firsthand just who everybody's cheering for.

Many couples, who went in before there were so many people, seem taken aback, surprised by the huge, clapping, smiling throng that greets them as they emerge. After an initial hesitation, these couple smile back, swell with pride, walk tall down the walkway through the crowd. Some, beaming, hold up their licenses when they reach the top of the steps - tiny certificates, like an index card - and the crowd goes wild with applause and cheers. The applause gets thunderous whenever an elderly couple comes out, or a couple with children. Almost all of the couples are grinning from ear to ear (their children vary from tremendously excited to tremendously bored.) People ask them for their autographs. As they walk towards the street, people start chanting "Kiss! Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!" Many of them do, to redoubled cheering.

There are couples of all ages, all races, all mixes. You can't help but wonder how long the older ones have waited for this, how much they went through to finally get here, how much everyone else owes to them. About two-thirds of the couples are lesbians (which makes sense for the Boston area, where the lesbian population is pretty high), and maybe a quarter of the couples came with children. There are even a few straight couples, maybe ones who wanted to wait to get married until it was a right everyone else shared, too. They get cheered as well - this is a day for equality. Everyone has a right to their happiness here.

Although we moved away two years ago, Io and I see all kinds of people we recognize in the crowd. Friends, former co-workers. Io screams with surprised delight when her bellydance teacher comes out of city hall, another woman on her arm, happily waving a certificate.

The crowd starts singing. "Going to the Chapel" and "I'm Getting Married in the Morning" are the favorites, although the second verses tend to get a little ragged, the musical theater fans singing the words and the rest stumbling along. Someone plays a drum and the whole crowd begins clapping in rhythm, breaking into more spontaneous clapping whenever another couple comes out.

The crowd has thinned out considerably by the wee hours of the morning, only the die-hards now. We try to make up for it by being louder, although our hands hurt from clapping and our voices are hoarse from shouting. Eventually, Io and I have to go, stumbling down Mass. Ave. to find a taxi and a 7-11 that stocks anything vegan. Someone still was holding the "YAY!" sign aloft when we left, the evening's unfallen flag.

All through the next day, stories start circulating. A couple got a waiver on the post-license wait period from a judge and got married around 9:00 AM, the very first in MA, right there at Cambridge City Hall. A couple from Florida got turned away at Cambridge for admitting to being from out-of-state, but got quietly directed by another couple to go to Somerville, where they've publicly said they're not going to ask anyone where they're from. They get their certificate. In a small Massachusetts town, a woman, nervous that her marriage is going to be taken away by the government, asks how long it's really good for. "'Til you die", he replies. There are weddings on beaches, in parks, at City Halls, in churches. Walking through my old Davis Square neighborhood in Somerville, the church across the street from where I used to live is covered in hand made signs: "Open for Business!" "Gay weddings proudly performed here!"

I'm still shaking with the excitement of it. This is happening. The avalanche has started. It might be slowed, it might even be pushed back for a little while, but it will not be stopped. It is coming. One way or another, it will arrive.
posted by kyrademon at 3:43 PM on November 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

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