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Perspective

10-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts

The plaintiffs in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health look back to May 17, 2004.

On the morning of May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples. A decade later, photographer Joel Benjamin tracked down the plaintiffs from Goodridge v. Department of Public Health to document the faces — and families — that made history.

More: The history of same-sex marriage in the US

ROBERT COMPTON AND DAVID WILSON

Joel Benjamin

What do you remember most from May 17, 2004?

Robert: The most memorable thing was watching the reaction of hundreds of people who gathered that day at City Hall, the courthouse, and our church — their cheering and hugging and kissing and crying — and realizing just how much it meant to them and their families as well as our own.

Looking back, what are you most proud of?

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David: I’m proud to have been part of the expansion of the civil rights movement. I was too young to take part in the movement in the ’60s, but as an African-American man this was my opportunity to make a contribution on behalf of my race and sexual orientation.

Have you been surprised by anything following the court decision?

Robert: I’m surprised by how accepting the country is becoming. When all the dire predictions such as the collapse of traditional marriage didn’t happen, it made those arguments weaker and weaker. Opposition had been built on a mountain of unfounded fears, and the fears have been evaporating faster than I thought possible.

LINDA AND GLORIA BAILEY-DAVIES

Joel Benjamin

What do you remember most from May 17, 2004?

Gloria: The feeling of absolute joy and relief to finally be each other’s legal next of kin and knowing we would always have access to each other in any illness or emergency.

Looking back, what are you most proud of?

Gloria: Our ability to remain our true authentic selves even in the midst of all the opposition and chaos.

Have you been surprised by anything following the court decision?

Gloria: The speed with which marriage equality is spreading throughout the country and the world.

GARY CHALMERS AND RICHARD LINNELL WITH DAUGHTER PAIGE

Joel Benjamin

What do you remember most from May 17, 2004?

Gary: The one thing that I will always remember about that day was the abundance of love and happiness that we experienced with everyone we came in contact with that day — from City Hall, to the courthouse, to our wedding ceremony.

Looking back, what are you most proud of?

Gary: The one thing that I am most proud of as a plaintiff in the Goodridge case is the example that we set for our daughter and that I set for my students: standing up and fighting for what you believe in.

Have you been surprised by anything following the court decision?

Gary: We have not been surprised by the events that have taken place since May 2004. We believed that we could be the start of a movement and have been thrilled to see the progress marriage equality has made over this past decade.

HEIDI AND GINA NORTONSMITH WITH SONS AVERY AND QUINN

Joel Benjamin

What do you remember most from May 17, 2004?

Heidi: I mostly remember turning the corner to the city office building where we’d be getting our permit, and seeing the throngs of people happily celebrating, and how they parted down the middle to welcome our family into the fold. So many people who weren’t there to get married had taken the day off from work and taken their kids out of school to come be part of the joy.

Looking back, what are you most proud of?

Heidi: I’m proud of how we parented our kids through the uncertainty, and the publicity, of the case. We taught them about standing up for what you believe in, teaching people by example, and finding points of shared humanity with people of all opinions. And we told them that if we win the case, we’ll have a big celebration and a cake, and if we lose, we’ll still be a family and we’ll still have cake!

Have you been surprised by anything following the court decision?

Heidi: Only by the speed with which the rightness of this decision has spread and been adopted. In the context of social movements, this is fast-paced evolution.

ELLEN WADE AND MAUREEN BRODOFF WITH DAUGHTER KATE

Joel Benjamin

What do you remember most from May 17, 2004?

Maureen: The day had so much meaning for me and Ellen, but what stood out for me was not just how happy it made us, but how happy our friends and family were for us. Above all I am grateful that my father, who has since passed away, was with us on that day, and was so proud of us. I think about that all the time.

Looking back, what are you most proud of?

Maureen: Our desire to have our long and deep commitment to each other recognized through a civil marriage grew out of the pride we had in our relationship. A good marriage is something to be proud of.

Have you been surprised by anything following the court decision?

Maureen: How willing people have been to reconsider their views and how quickly our marriages have come to be accepted, in Massachusetts and now in many other states, as just another ordinary way of creating and sustaining a family.

EDWARD BALMELLI AND MICHAEL HORGAN

Joel Benjamin

What do you remember most from May 17, 2004?

Edward: The thing I remember most is the reaction we all had when the minister said “By the power granted to me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts I pronounce you married.” Friends and family erupted in applause and cheers. It was a great affirmation of all we had been through together.

Looking back, what are you most proud of?

Michael: Of course we had our own reasons for wanting to marry, as any couple does. However, as plaintiffs we understood that we were making it possible for all same-sex couples to marry, and that we’d be among the first in the nation to do so. It was an honor to serve our community in that way.

Have you been surprised by anything following the court decision?

Michael: In the first few years following the decision, it wasn’t clear that we’d be able to keep it. We had fierce opponents who made several attempts to take our right to marry away. I was pleasantly surprised by our community’s very strong response to that — the LGBT community in Massachusetts was organized and energized for the fight.

JULIE AND HILLARY GOODRIDGE (NOW DIVORCED) WITH DAUGHTER ANNIE

Joel Benjamin

What do you remember most from May 17, 2004?

Hillary: I will always remember what a fabulous flower girl Annie was, tossing petals and laughing. I remember catching [attorney] Mary Bonauto’s eye during the ceremony, which made me cry. I was so grateful and in awe of her. And how happy the city of Boston was that day.

Looking back, what are you most proud of?

Julie: I am most proud of the fact that we were the named plaintiffs and that we won!

Have you been surprised by anything following the court decision?

Hillary: I was really surprised by the vitriol that came out after we won, how President Bush, politicians and religious leaders tried to turn it into a wedge issue using hatred and homophobia. I was also surprised to find support in most unlikely places, which still happens. And, of course, that 17 states now have marriage equality and the majority of people in the United States are in support should not be a surprise, but it is a delightful one.

Interviews have been edited and condensed.

More: The history of same-sex marriage in the US

These portraits by Joel Benjamin (joelbenjamin.com), as well as others of couples who married in 2004, will be on display alongside photographs by Marilyn Humphries and Susan Symonds at the Boston Center for Adult Education (bcae.org) from Friday to June 30. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.
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