Marriage Equality USA

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State of Massachusetts
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Current Status

  • Civil marriage equality in effect at the state level since 2004. (Same-sex couples may legally marry.)


  • In 1989, passing legislation first proposed in 1973, Massachusetts prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in credit, public and private employment, union practices, housing, and public accommodation.
  • In 1991, the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights launched a campaign on behalf of civil marriage rights for same-sex couples in Massachusetts.
  • In May 2004, marriage equality was legalized as a result of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that it was unconstitutional under the Massachusetts constitution to allow only opposite-sex couples to marry.
  • MA waa the first state in the U.S. to legalize marriage equality.
  • MA was the 6th jurisdiction in the world to legalize marriage equality.

Legislation - Pending


Legislation - Enacted


Lawsuits - Pending

Kosilek v. O'Brien (formerly Kosilek v. Spencer)

Case #: 12-2194 (1st Circuit)
Date Filed:
Court Level: First Circuit Court of Appeals
Date of Appeal: 16 March 2015


Lawsuits - Resolved

Massachusetts had a total of 5 marriage equality–related lawsuits that became moot with the Supreme Court of the United States ruling in Windsor v. United States on 26 June 2013. All of the cases were concluded.

These cases included: Gill v. U.S. OPM, Massachusetts v. U.S. HHS, and Dean Hara v. U.S. OPM.

Goodridge v. Department of Public Health

Case #:
Date Filed: 11 April 2001
Ruling Date: 18 November 2003, Effective 17 May 2004


  • Seven same-sex couples represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders initiated the lawsuit in state court.
  • The plaintiffs argued that denying same-sex couples equal marriage rights was unconstitutional under the state constitution.
  • 7 May 2002, Suffolk County Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Connolly ruled that the state marriage statute was not gender-neutral, no fundamental right to same-sex marriage existed, and that limiting marriage to male-female couples was rational because "procreation is marriage's central purpose". He concluded his legal analysis by saying that the issue should be handled by the legislature.
  • The plaintiffs appealed directly to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), which heard arguments on 4 March 2003.
  • 18 November 2003, the SJC ruled 4 to 3 that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The court said: "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." It provided a definition of marriage that would meet the state constitution's requirements: "We construe civil marriage to mean the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others."
  • The court stayed its ruling for 180 days to allow the state legislature "take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of this opinion."
  • 11 December 2003, the Massachusetts Senate proposed civil unions for same-sex couples to the SJC, asking if it satisfied the court's requirements.
  • 4 February 2004, the court replied that it was unacceptable to allow different-sex couples marriages but same-sex couples only civil unions, that the distinction between marriage and civil unions constituted unconstitutional discrimination, even if the rights and obligations attached to each were identical. It called the difference between the terms marriage and civil union "a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual, couples to second-class status."
  • What followed was a great deal of discussion, attempts to sway the court’s decision and to delay implementation of the bill via proposed amendments to the bill and to the state constitution, as well as threats of non-reelection. The bill was actively addressed during the Constitutional Convention of 2004. To read the procedural history we recommend Wikipedia’s coverage.
  • Once it was clear that marriage equality was going to be the law for Massachusetts, the issues raised were that of performing marriages for people from out-of-state, and then of the “difficulty” in changing state forms in order to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
  • On 23 April 2014 then Governor Mitt Romney said: "Massachusetts should not become the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage. We do not intend to export our marriage confusion to the entire nation." His spokesman announced he was sending letters to the governors and attorneys general of the other states to explain his view that same-sex marriage was not legal in their state and asking "if we're wrong" about that. Denying licenses to all out-state couples became known as "the Romney plan."
  • On 4 May 2014, when the Romney administration began training clerks to handle applications from same-sex couples, a Boston Globe report called it "a major shift from the governor's earlier stance on enforcing limitations on licensing gay marriage." The new forms were gender-neutral, identifying the applicants as "Party A" and Party B" and asking each to check a box for either male or female. Clerks could require proof of residency if they asked that of all couples, but needed only to have applicants swear that there were no legal impediments to their marrying in Massachusetts. Some towns and clerks announced plans to knowingly issue licenses to out-of-staters.
  • A Boston Globe survey at the time found that half of the couples who applied for licenses on the first day had been partners for a decade or more. Two-thirds were women and 30 percent were raising children. Only the towns that had made an issue of issuing licenses to out-of-staters had appreciable numbers of them. In the first week, 2,468 same-sex couples applied for licenses, including at least 164 from 27 other states and the District of Columbia.

Ballot Initiatives - Passed


Ballot Initiatives - Pending



  • A September 2013 poll found that 85% of Massachusetts voters saw a positive or little to no impact from marriage equality in the commonwealth. In the poll, voters in the state supported legalizing same-sex marriage 60% to 29%. News Source
  • Results released on 29 June 2012 by Public Policy Polling showed that 62% of residents thought marriage between same-sex couples should be legal, and only 30% thought it should be illegal. Only 12% of respondents said they thought there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships at all. Poll Details