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Monday, March 18, 2013

Gay Marriage Legal Opinion A Hit At Weddings

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, author of the 2003 majority decision allowing gay marriage, is pictured in May 2005. (George Rizer/AP)

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, author of the 2003 majority decision allowing gay marriage, is pictured in May 2005. (George Rizer/AP)

As the Supreme Court takes up the issue of gay marriage next week, we thought we’d take a quick look at an unexpected effect of the 2003 Massachusetts decision to allow same-sex marriage.

Margaret Marshall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1999 to 2010, wrote the majority opinion in the 2003 “Goodridge v. Department of Public Health” case that was the first in the country.

Her eloquent words not only made history, but in recent years they’ve also proved to be a popular reading choice at weddings, not only for gay couples but heterosexual couples as well.

Marshall, now retired, told Here & Now, “I don’t think too many judges think when they write opinions that it’s going to be poetry, but from time to time I’m sent a program from a wedding, and it’s always touching when I see Shakespeare, John Donne, Margaret Marshall … very good company.”

Excerpts of the majority opinion by Chief Justice Marshall:
(Click here to read the whole decision)

Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. “It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects.” Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a “civil right.”

Without the right to marry – or more properly, the right to choose to marry – one is excluded from the full range of human experience and denied full protection of the laws for one’s “avowed commitment to an intimate and lasting human relationship.” Because civil marriage is central to the lives of individuals and the welfare of the community, our laws assiduously protect the individual’s right to marry against undue government incursion.

That same-sex couples are willing to embrace marriage’s solemn obligations of exclusivity, mutual support, and commitment to one another is a testament to the enduring place of marriage in our laws and in the human spirit.

In separate news on Monday, Hillary Clinton has thrown her support behind gay marriage, in a video posted by the Human Rights Campaign:


  • Margaret Marshall, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1999 to 2010.

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  • Guest

    I enjoy Hear and Now but I have noticed a pattern in this program’s discussion of gay marriage.   Your coverage is one that consistently congratulates gay marriage and those who support it.  This is an issue that is split down the middle when it comes to the American public.  Why is it that you have chosen a side to advocate through your continued coverage of only those who support gay marriage?  I am open to different perspectives on this topic and love to hear an intelligent debate on the issue with the pros and cons of both sides.   I question why your program is suppressing one side of the debate while in my opinon over covering the other.  It saddens me that a show I enjoy listening to has chosen not to present a balanced approach to coverage on a hot button issue that will accurately represent both sides of the debate.   I go back and forth on this issue to make sure that my opinion and votes match my values, convictions and commitment to love.  It would be very beneficial for me if you could cover the other side of the debate with as much care and sensitivity as you do the pro gay marriage side.  This will help me to form a balanced opinion that is based on a multitude of factors instead of forming a pro gay marriage opinion because this is what the media says is right so it must be right because the media says it’s right.

    Thank you for taking my comment.  Again, I love the show.  However I wish there were more balanced coverage when it comes to this issue.

    • B. Harris

       Guest, I am not sure where you reside, but here in Massachusetts (where Hear and Now is produced) the issue is not split down the middle.  The most recent poll I have seen (from Public Policy Polling, taken in September of 2012) shows that Massachusetts residents support marriage equality for same-sex couples by a 2-1 margin, and 86% favor legal recognition of same-sex relationships (56% for marriage, 30% for civil unions).

      I am an expatriate Southerner who has lived in the Commonwealth for twenty-five years.  Acceptance of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people here has increased greatly over that period.  But the change since marriage equality became law in 2004 has been dramatic.  I am gay, and my partner and I recently moved from Boston to one of the smallest, most rural hamlets in the state.  We worried a bit, before the move, about the level of prejudice that we, as a very out couple, might face in such a tiny farm town (which, by the way, is heavily Republican).  The answer shocked us.  None.  Four years later we are as accepted here as any of the old farm families in the town.

      I know that there is significant division on the issue of marriage equality in parts of the country that have not experienced the reality of it as much as Massachusetts has.  Here, though, it is just a normal part of life.  That is what you are hearing from Hear and Now.

      • Oharaj2

         MA has become infested with homosexuals.  This was not what many straight people wanted but it was what it was and they”ve made peace with it.  Don’t think tolerance means acceptance however; it does not. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Dodson/1406670076 David Dodson

    I wouldn’t mind seeing an intelligent discussion on the topic, However, all I ever hear is religious objections and unsupported assertions that somehow gay marriage undermines the straight version or somehow keeps heterosexuals from having and raising kids.

  • Oharaj2

    The judge speaks entitely in normative rather than positivist language here.  I wonder if she would take the same normative views toward abortion, or would she rather slip back into the old positivist saw of a “woman’s health,” etc., etc.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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