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Healey collecting testimonials from same-sex couples

Maura Healey swore in the assistant attorneys general.John Blanding/Globe Staff

Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has started an innovative social media campaign, asking the public to help make the case to the US Supreme Court that marriage should be a constitutional right for same-sex couples by providing testimonials about the impact of marriage equality on their lives.

“We’re in the process of writing a brief and we hope to include your stories,” reads a Tuesday post from the Facebook page of the Massachusetts attorney general’s office. “How has marriage equality changed your life? What would it mean for your family to have marriage equality across the country? How have you felt when you’ve visited or moved to states which didn’t recognize same-sex marriage?”


The attorney general’s office has a long history of advocacy for same-sex marriage, not only in Massachusetts but also across the country. This week’s request for testimonials, which can be submitted in writing or video, is the most recent effort in a decade-long fight.

In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Since then, the attorney general’s office took on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and joined 12 other states and the District of Columbia in supporting the plaintiffs in the case against California’s Proposition 8 ban on marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Both cases made their way before the Supreme Court, and a 2013 decision struck down the part of DOMA that barred same-sex couples married in states that allow such unions from receiving federal benefits.

The office is now looking to again file a brief in support of gay marriage before the nation’s high court, which has agreed to decide whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

“This is a matter of legal advocacy,” Healey said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s important for the court to understand how marriage equality affects people’s lives and people’s families and how denying that right affects people’s lives and people’s children.”


Healey’s office believes testimonials from people about their experiences will help drive home the point that the issue is not about social experimentation but about marriage, legal injustice, degradation, and harm.

Even when gay and lesbian couples are allowed to marry, they face challenges when their marriages are not universally recognized, especially when they travel or move to a state that does not recognize their union, Healey’s office argues. Insurance coverage might not transfer, hospitals don’t provide the same decision-making rights, and the birth certificates of children adopted from other states do not get amended to reflect parentage.

It is important for the Supreme Court to understand what those choices look and feel like, especially considering that people live in a society that is more mobile than ever before, advocates say. The case the attorney general's office is trying to make focuses on the harm caused by having a patchwork of marriage laws and not blanket recognition of same-sex marriage.

“Marriage equality has been a good thing for families,” Healey said. “Now is the time for us to tell our story.”

The public has until March 4 to help the attorney general’s office make its argument to the Supreme Court. The goal is to hear from as many people as possible and share as many experiences as possible. In addition to sharing stories on Facebook, Healey’s office is also encouraging people to provide 140-character testimonials on Twitter that include the hashtag #MA4Equality.


Some legal observers say there is a certain novelty and cleverness to what Healey’s office is doing by requesting testimonials.

The hope is that the stories will sway at least one justice in what legal observers say will probably be a 5-4 decision.

But there is no saying how such stories will register with Supreme Court justices because the court has never ruled directly on the constitutionality of gay marriage.

Without precedent, it is impossible to say what argument will sway a justice, said David Friedman, an attorney who worked for former Attorney General Martha Coakley and served as a law clerk for retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

“Beyond the legal analysis and reading the language of Constitution and prior cases, it is hard to say what ends up swaying a particular justice one way or another,” Friedman said.

Still, because the issue of marriage equality is a personal one that affects people’s lives, he said, it is “quite possible that there are some testimonials that might carry some sway.”

The cases that the Supreme Court will hear, possibly in the last week of April, were brought by 15 same-sex couples in four states who said they have a right to marry and be treated the same as opposite-sex couples. The bans, plaintiffs say, demean their dignity, impose practical difficulties, and inflict harm on their children.

The court will hear 2½ hours of argument, with the first 90 minutes devoted to the question of whether the Constitution requires states to sanction same-sex marriage. If no, the last hour will be devoted to determining whether states must recognize a same-sex union legally performed out of state.


“I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court makes the right decision . . . and ends this issue once and for all so that same-sex couples, not just in Massachusetts but across this country, have the right to marry the person who they love,” Healey said.

Akilah Johnson can be reached at akilah.johnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @akjohnson1922.