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Goodridge v. Dep't of Pub. Health

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

March 4, 2003, Argued ; November 18, 2003, Decided



 [*312]  [**948]   MARSHALL, C.J. 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,  [***5]  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 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, 539 U.S. 558, 156 L. Ed. 2d 508, 123 S. Ct. 2472, 2480 (2003) (Lawrence), quoting Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 850, 120 L. Ed. 2d 674, 112 S. Ct. 2791 (1992).

Whether the Commonwealth may use its formidable regulatory  [*313]  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 [***6]  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 protective of individual liberty and equality than the Federal Constitution; it  [**949]  may demand broader protection for fundamental rights; and it is less tolerant of government intrusion into the protected spheres of private life.

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440 Mass. 309 *; 798 N.E.2d 941 **; 2003 Mass. LEXIS 814 ***


Subsequent History:  [***1]  As Corrected December 4, 2003.

Related proceeding at Opinions of the Justices to the Senate, 440 Mass. 1201, 802 N.E.2d 565, 2004 Mass. LEXIS 35 (2004)

Related proceeding at Largess v. Supreme Judicial Court for Mass., 317 F. Supp. 2d 77, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8461 (D. Mass., 2004)

Appeal dismissed by Doyle v. Goodridge, 444 Mass. 1006, 827 N.E.2d 1255, 2005 Mass. LEXIS 228 (Mass., May 27, 2005)

Prior History: Suffolk. 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.

Goodridge v. Dep't of Pub. Health, 2002 Mass. Super. LEXIS 153 (Mass. Super. Ct., 2002)

Disposition: Superior court's grant of summary judgment for the Department of Public Health vacated; case remanded to superior court for entry of judgment for the plaintiffs. Entry of judgment to be stayed for 180 days to permit Massachusetts Legislature the opportunity to take any action deemed necessary in light of this opinion.


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