University of Michigan Law School
Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name Goodridge v. Department of Human Health PB-MA-0008
Docket / Court 01-1647-A ( State Court )
State/Territory Massachusetts
Case Type(s) Public Benefits / Government Services
Special Collection Same-Sex Marriage
Attorney Organization GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders)
Case Summary
On September 24, 2002, fourteen private citizens of five different Massachusetts counties filed this lawsuit in the Suffolk Superior Court in Massachusetts. The plaintiffs, all of which were in long-term same-sex relationships, sued the Massachusetts Department of Human Health because they believed ... read more >
On September 24, 2002, fourteen private citizens of five different Massachusetts counties filed this lawsuit in the Suffolk Superior Court in Massachusetts. The plaintiffs, all of which were in long-term same-sex relationships, sued the Massachusetts Department of Human Health because they believed that the Department’s refusal to issue them marriage licenses violated their rights under the Massachusetts Constitution. Represented by lawyers associated with GLAD, the plaintiffs asked the court for declaratory relief acknowledging that their exclusion from receiving marriage licenses violates Massachusetts law on both due process and equal protection grounds. Judge Thomas E. Connolly of the Suffolk Superior Court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and the case was appealed directly to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

The main issue before the Massachusetts Supreme Court was whether or not government actions to prevent same-sex couples from obtaining marriage licenses—and thus marriages—was a proper use of the State’s authority to regulate the conduct of its citizens, or if this conduct violated the Massachusetts Constitution. On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme court ruled for the latter.

Writing the court’s opinion, Chief Justice Margaret Marshall discussed (and dismissed) all three of the defendant’s main rationales for excluding same-sex couples from obtaining civil marriages. The defendant’s first argument, that marriage should be solely between a man and a woman because this arrangement was optimal for procreation, was dismissed because intent to have children has never been a requirement of heterosexual couples to obtain marriage licenses.

The defendants next argued that marriage in Massachusetts needed to be kept between a man and a woman to ensure the optimal setting for child rearing. The court dismissed this claim because heterosexual marital status was not a prerequisite for adopting a child in Massachusetts at the time. In fact, many of the plaintiffs had children of their own. The court reasoned that, if anything, extending civil marriages to same-sex couples would promote child welfare because it would enable more children to be raised in households with the financial and legal benefits afforded by marriage.

Thirdly, the defendants argued that same-sex marriages would put a strain on state resources because they reasoned that same-sex couples were more financially independent. The court noted that this is not necessarily true—many of the plaintiffs in the case had dependents, including children and older relatives. Also, the court noted that heterosexual couples were not required to be financially dependent on one-another to obtain a marriage license.

The court held that the defendant had not articulated any adequate constitutional justification for maintaining the marriage ban, and so found for the plaintiffs, declaring that—and thereby changing the common law of Massachusetts to say—that marriage is “the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.” It instituted a 180-day stay to allow the legislature to take action based on its decision, and it reversed and remanded the case to the Suffolk Superior Court for judgment. 798 N.E.2d 941 (2003).

This was the first time that the highest court in any state had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Almost a dozen years later, the Supreme Court effectively lifted the marriage ban for the United States in Obergefell v. Hodges (PB-OH-003 in this clearinghouse).

Megan Brown - 10/09/2016

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Sexual orientatation
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action State law
Defendant(s) The State of Massachusetts
Plaintiff Description fourteen private citizens from five different Massachusetts counties. All fourteen of these citizens were engaged in long-term same-sex relationships.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations GLAD (GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders)
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 2001
Case Closing Year 2003
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Goodridge et al. v. Dept. Public Health
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders
Date: Feb. 4, 2004
By: GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Goodridge v. Department of Public Health
Lambda Legal
By: Lambda Legal
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
State Trial Court
PB-MA-0008-9000.pdf | Detail
General Documents
State Supreme Court
Opinion of Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (798 N.E.2d 941)
PB-MA-0008-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
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Judges Cordy, Robert J. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Greaney, John M. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Marshall, Margaret H. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Sosman, Martha B. (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Spina, Francis X (State Supreme Court) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bonauto, Mary L. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Buseck, Gary D. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Klein, Bennett H. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Levi, Jennifer (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Loewy, Karen L. (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Edwards, Kenneth E. (Washington) show/hide docs
Rice, Juliana DeHann (Massachusetts) show/hide docs
Sacks, Peter (Massachusetts) show/hide docs

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