Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, SJC-08860 (Mass. 11/18/2003), SJC-08860.

Decision Date18 November 2003
Docket NumberSJC-08860.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

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Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.
March 4, 2003.
November 18, 2003.

License. Marriage. Statute, Construction. Constitutional Law, Police power, Equal protection of laws. Due Process of Law, Marriage. Words, "Marriage."

Civil action commenced in the Superior Court Department on April 11, 2001.

The case was heard by Thomas E. Connolly, J., on motions for summary judgment.

The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

Mary Lisa Bonauto (Gary D. Buseck with her) for Hillary Goodridge.

Judith S. Yogman, Assistant Attorney General, for Department of Public Health.

The following submitted briefs for amici curiae:

Joseph P.J. Vrabel, Mark D. Mason, & Martin W. Healy for Massachusetts Bar Association.

Leslie Cooper & James D. Esseks, of New York, Jon W. Davidson & Shannon Minter, of California, Elliot M. Mincberg & Judith E. Schaeffer, of the District of Columbia, & John Reinstein, Sarah R. Wunsch, Paul Holtzman, & Hugh Dun Rappaport for Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts & others.

Paul Benjamin Linton, of Illinois, & Thomas M. Harvey for Robert J. Araujo & others.

Dwight G. Duncan for Massachusetts Family Institute, Inc., & others.

Glen Lavy, of Arizona, Stephen W. Reed, of California, &

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Bertin C. Emmons for National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, Inc., & others.

Robert W. Ash & Vincent P. McCarthy, of Connecticut, & Philip E. Cleary for The Common Good Foundation & others.

Don Stenberg, Attorney General of Nebraska, Mark L. Shurtleff, Attorney General of Utah, Brent A. Burnett, Assistant Attorney General of Utah, & Mark Barnett, Attorney General of South Dakota, for the State of Utah & others.

Chester Darling & Michael Williams for Massachusetts Citizens Alliance & another.

Daniel Avila for The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts.

Joshua K. Baker, of California, & Robert G. Caprera for José Martín de Agar & others.

Wendy J. Herdlein, of California, & James R. Knudsen for the Honorable Philip Travis & others.

Steven W. Fitschen, of Virginia, for The National Legal Foundation.

Jeffrey A. Shafer & David R. Langdon, of Ohio, William C. Duncan, of Utah, & Wendy J. Herdlein, of California, for Marriage Law Project.

Lisa Rae, Kenneth Elmore, Arthur Berney, & Josephine Ross for The Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry & others.

Ann DiMaria for The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission & others.

Anthony Mirenda, Vickie L. Henry, Lucy Fowler, John M. Granberry, Rachel N. Lessem, & Gabriel M. Helmer for Robert F. Williams & others.

Kenneth J. Parsigian for Peter W. Bardaglio & others.

David Cruz, of New York, John Taylor Williams, Carol V. Rose, Debra Squires-Lee, Christopher Morrison, & Marni Goldstein Caputo for William E. Adams & others.

Martin J. Newhouse & Katharine Bolland for Coalition gaie et lesbienne du Québec & others.

Joseph Ureneck, pro se.

Teresa S. Collett, of Texas, & Luke Stanton for Free Market Foundation.

Peter F. Zupcofska, L. Tracee Whitley, Heidi A. Nadel, & Corin R. Swift for Boston Bar Association & another.

Mary Jo Johnson, Jonathan A. Shapiro, & Amy L. Nash for The Massachusetts Psychiatric Society & others.

Tony R. Maida, Nina Joan Kimball, & Justine H. Brousseau for Libby Adler & others.

Daryl J. Lapp, Kevin D. Batt, & Katharine Silbaugh for Monroe Inker & another.

David Zwiebel, Mordechai Biser, & Nathan J. Diament, of New York, & Abba Cohen, of the District of Columbia, for Agudath Israel of America & others.

Present: Marshall, C.J., Greaney, Ireland, Spina, Cowin, Sosman, & Cordy, JJ.

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Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not. The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens. In reaching our conclusion we have given full deference to the arguments made by the Commonwealth. But it has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.

We are mindful that our decision marks a change in the history of our marriage law. Many people hold deep-seated religious, moral, and ethical convictions that marriage should be limited to the union of one man and one woman, and that homosexual conduct is immoral. Many hold equally strong religious, moral, and ethical convictions that same-sex couples are entitled to be married, and that homosexual persons should be treated no differently than their heterosexual neighbors. Neither view answers the question before us. Our concern is with

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the Massachusetts Constitution as a charter of governance for every person properly within its reach. "Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code." Lawrence v. Texas, 123 S. Ct. 2472, 2480 (2003) (Lawrence), quoting Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 850 (1992).

Whether the Commonwealth may use its formidable regulatory authority to bar same-sex couples from civil marriage is a question not previously addressed by a Massachusetts appellate court.3 It is a question the United States Supreme Court left open as a matter of Federal law in Lawrence, supra at 2484, where it was not an issue. There, the Court affirmed that the core concept of common human dignity protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution precludes government intrusion into the deeply personal realms of consensual adult expressions of intimacy and one's choice of an intimate partner. The Court also reaffirmed the central role that decisions whether to marry or have children bear in shaping one's identity. Id. at 2481. The Massachusetts Constitution is, if anything, more

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protective of individual liberty and equality than the Federal Constitution; it may demand broader protection for fundamental rights; and it is less tolerant of government intrusion into the protected spheres of private life.

Barred access to the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage, a person who enters into an intimate, exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions. That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under law.


The plaintiffs are fourteen individuals from five Massachusetts counties. As of April 11, 2001, the date they filed their complaint, the plaintiffs Gloria Bailey, sixty years old, and Linda Davies, fifty-five years old, had been in a committed relationship for thirty years; the plaintiffs Maureen Brodoff, forty-nine years old, and Ellen Wade, fifty-two years old, had been in a committed relationship for twenty years and lived with their twelve year old daughter; the plaintiffs Hillary Goodridge, forty-four years old, and Julie Goodridge, forty-three years old, had been in a committed relationship for thirteen years and lived with their five year old daughter; the plaintiffs Gary Chalmers, thirty-five years old, and Richard Linnell, thirty-seven years old, had been in a committed relationship for thirteen years and lived with their eight year old daughter and

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Richard's mother; the plaintiffs Heidi Norton, thirty-six years old, and Gina Smith, thirty-six years old, had been in a committed relationship for eleven years and lived with their two sons, ages five years and one year; the plaintiffs Michael Horgan, forty-one years old, and Edward Balmelli, forty-one years old, had been in a committed relationship for seven years; and the plaintiffs David Wilson, fifty-seven years old, and Robert Compton, fifty-one years old, had been in a committed relationship for four years and had cared for David's mother in their home after a serious illness until she died.

The plaintiffs include business executives, lawyers, an investment banker, educators, therapists, and a computer engineer. Many are active in church, community, and school groups. They have employed such legal means as are available to them — for example, joint adoption, powers of attorney, and joint ownership of real property — to secure aspects of their relationships. Each plaintiff attests a desire to marry his or her partner in order to affirm publicly their commitment to each other and to secure the legal protections and benefits afforded to married couples and their children.

The Department of Public Health (department) is charged by statute with safeguarding public health. See G. L. c. 17. Among its responsibilities, the department oversees the registry of vital records and statistics (registry), which "enforce[s] all laws" relative to the issuance of marriage licenses and the keeping of marriage records, see G. L. c. 17, § 4, and which

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promulgates policies and procedures for the issuance of marriage licenses by city and town clerks and registers. See, e.g., G. L. c. 207, §§ 20, 28A, and 37. The registry is headed by a registrar of vital records and statistics (registrar), appointed by the Commissioner of Public Health (commissioner) with the approval of the public health council and supervised by the commissioner. See G. L. c. 17, § 4.

In March and April, 2001, each of the plaintiff couples attempted to obtain a marriage license from a city or town...

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