The instant that Julie Goodridge saw Friday’s US Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, she burst into tears. A dozen years ago, she was a lead plaintiff in the landmark case that legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts. Now, in the culmination of a historic civil rights movement that took flight in Boston, it had become the law of the land.
“This was something we had worked for for so many years,” she said Friday. “It's just so emotional, and so incredible.”
The high court’s 5-4 ruling that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to marry under the US Constitution touched off celebrations across the country, and in Massachusetts brought an abundant sense of gratitude and accomplishment, and amazement over how quickly things had changed.
While opponents of gay marriage, including the Catholic Church, decried the decision, advocates and political leaders hailed it as a watershed moment.
“Massachusetts led the way in this battle — in both the courts and the State House,” said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. “Our families are now protected regardless of the state in which we reside.”
“This is an historic moment for our nation,” she continued. “And as with so many other historic moments in this country’s history, it began here.”
In 2003, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage, a radical step that pushed the issue of marriage equality toward the mainstream.
Margaret Marshall, former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court and author of Goodridge vs. the Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts decision that allowed gay marriage, said the Supreme Court ruling was an “exhilarating affirmation of our constitutional democracy.”
Maura Healey, the state’s first openly gay attorney general, said the ruling was cause for celebration.
“This is about equality. This is about fairness,” she said. “This is about the fact that families now, all across this country, will be treated equally, wherever they go, wherever they live with whomever they love.’’
In Cambridge, which recorded the nation’s first same-sex marriages in 2004, the Supreme Court decision recalled the excitement of that time, when couples lined up at City Hall for marriage licenses.
“This verifies everything Cambridge believed in 2004,” said Richard Rossi, the city manager. “Hopefully this decision puts this issue to rest, so people can move on with their lives.”
The first day that same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts — on May 17, 2004 — 270 applications for marriage intentions were filed, and some couples got married that day, city officials recalled Friday. People driving by City Hall honked in support, balloons floated toward the sky, and supporters brought cake and flowers.
“I think in this world there is so much hate,” said Donna Lopez, now the city clerk, who was there for the first marriages. “But what I saw in those couples was an overabundance of love.”
Opponents of same-sex marriage decried the Supreme Court ruling as judicial overreach. The Massachusetts Family Institute said the decision “imposes a redefinition of marriage on the entire country.”
“Tragically, the court has elevated the sexual preferences of adults over the needs of children, the constitutions of a majority of the states, and the religious freedom of all,” said Andrew Beckwith, the group’s president.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, said he was saddened by the decision, which he said “embodies a quite different understanding of the meaning of marriage than held by the church.”
“The institution of marriage understood in its human, moral and legal dimensions is a fundamental building block of any society,” he said in a statement. “The protection of marriage and families is a shared responsibility for all of us.”
Meanwhile, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops called the marriage decision “a tragic error.”
“The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky.
On Beacon Hill, Governor Charlie Baker said he was pleased that Massachusetts was now “one of 50 states” to recognize same-sex marriage.
“Here in the Commonwealth, this has been the law for many years. But it’s now law everywhere,” Baker said. “That makes this a very special and great day for the country and for the Commonwealth and for all those who are simply looking for an opportunity to marry the person they love.”
Baker, whose brother, Alex, is gay and married, said the issue “has been personal for many years.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said he was deeply moved by the decision.
“We’ve watched together with pride as our example spread across the nation and around the world,” Walsh said. “It brings Boston great joy to know that every American and every American community will experience this equality. It is a victory for democracy, for family, for community and for love.”