By: Chuck Colbert /TRT Reporter—
November marks the tenth anniversary of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling that made the state the first in the nation where same-sex couples could legally marry. The Court’s decision jump-started the freedom to marry movement nationwide, which now includes 14 states and the District of Columbia. The ruling also infused the larger LGBT equality effort with enthusiasm, determination and momentum.
In celebrating the landmark Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health decision of November 18, 2003, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders’ (GLAD) 14th annual Spirit of Justice Award Dinner drew more than 1,100 people to the Boston Marriott Copley Place on Friday, October 25, including Goodridge plaintiff couples. GLAD also honored the author of that historic ruling, the Honorable Margaret H. Marshall, who served as chief justice at the time.
GLAD selected Marshall for its Spirit of Justice Award for her life-long commitment to justice, demonstrated by her fight against apartheid, belief in civil rights for all, and dedication to the rule of law. She was the first woman to be appointed chief justice and the second woman appointed to the SJC. The author of more than several hundred decisions, Marshall has written opinions on child welfare, against disability discrimination, and safeguards for criminal defendants, among others. However, her most famous, of course, is Goodridge.
“This is the biggest dinner ever,” GLAD’s Executive Director Lee Swislow told the gathering.
In fact, the flagship event raised a whopping $718K for the legal rights group that brought not only the Goodridge lawsuit, but also two legal challenges to the 1993 Defense of Marriage Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down earlier this year in Windsor. [pullquote]“The opinion could not have been more eloquent,” Bonauto said in her remarks, going on to quote from Goodridge:“The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”[/pullquote]
“This is the first time in years that I will not be telling you about the need to take down DOMA,” said Swislow.
That line drew sustained applause.
The theme of the evening’s celebration was “Celebrating Victories, Work to be Done.” GLAD’s Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto, who argued on March 4, 2003 before the SJC on behalf of seven Goodridge plaintiffs, introduced Marshall and presented the award to her.
“The opinion could not have been more eloquent,” Bonauto said in her remarks, going on to quote from Goodridge:“The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”
The opinion’s “Constitutional analysis lifted the dignity of every LGBT person,” Bonauto explained.
The Spirit of Justice Award recognizes individuals whose work and achievements reflect a profound dedication to our ideal of a just society.
“For any lawyer, any judge, it would be a great honor to receive an award from GLAD,” Marshall said in her acceptance remarks. “For me, it has particular resonance” because “I was born and educated in South Africa and grew up in apartheid where opposition to the racist, homophobic system of white supremacy was defined as criminal.” [pullquote]“For me, it has particular resonance” because “I was born and educated in South Africa and grew up in apartheid where opposition to the racist, homophobic system of white supremacy was defined as criminal. — Margaret H. Marshall”[/pullquote]
She said homosexuality was also defined as a crime.
“I celebrate you for your insistence that the rule of law, equality under the law, remain the defining gene of the DNA of the United States of America,” said Marshall. “May it never be otherwise for your children and for the generations to come. Their legacy rests in your hands.”
Many who attended the award dinner view Marshall as nothing less than a legal and judicial rock star.
“She made such a huge difference for so many people across the country,” said Arline Isaacson, long time gay-rights activist who lobbied lawmakers in the Legislature to protect Goodridge against any constitutional amendment that would have rolled back its gains in marriage equality. “She broke a log jam in thinking with the words she wrote, making the thoughts accessible, not just legal. It was beautiful, moving and real.”
Goodridge plaintiff David Wilson said the full effect of the evening and the ten years it commemorated had not yet “registered.”
“To absorb it, the joy is overwhelming,” Wilson said.
Another plaintiff, Maureen Brodoff, a lawyer, said of Marshall, “I can’t think of anyone whom I admire more, who has shown such courage.”
Of “the courage it took to be first,” said Brodoff, “It’s easy to look back, but not many judges were willing to say what she said at the time.” [pullquote]Of “the courage it took to be first,” said Brodoff, “It’s easy to look back, but not many judges were willing to say what she said at the time.”[/pullquote]
Freedom to Marry’s National Campaign Director Marc Solomon, a former MassEquality executive director, said the evening was an emotional night.
“Such a memorable talk from Marshall, so understated from a truly powerful judge,” said Solomon.
When asked what’s next for the marriage equality movement, Solomon said, “Hawaii next week. Illinois — the week after. We keep going forward. It all started here.”
For more information on GLAD, visit www.glad.org.
[View Glad’s most recent video celebrating the Nov. 18, 2013 10th anniversary of the decision that started it all for marriage equality in the U.S. The video features Chief Justice Marshall; Mary Bonauto, GLAD’s lead counsel in Goodridge, U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand; Congressman Barney Frank; Bishop Gene Robinson; state Reps. Carl Sciortino and Byron Rushing; Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry; MA Attorney General Martha Coakley; Goodridge plaintiffs Rob Compton and David Wilson; Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.].