20 Years On: Reflections from the First Same-Sex Couples to Marry in the US

“The entire city bloomed in joy,” remembers Hillary Goodridge about the day she says was one of the most joyous of her life. On May 17, 2004, Hillary and Julie Goodridge and their daughter Annie, flanked by GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto, walked to Boston City Hall to receive the first marriage license granted to a same-sex couple in the United States. A crowd of more than a thousand showed up to witness the historic milestone.

David Wilson and Rob Compton at their wedding ceremony. They are dressed in black suits, holding hands and facing each other in front of their officiant.
David Wilson and Rob Compton

Just a few hours later, fellow Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health plaintiffs David Wilson and Rob Compton became the first same-sex couple to marry in a church.

Both couples knew firsthand that legal protections were badly needed for LGBTQ+ couples and families, and this fueled their commitment to the fight for marriage equality.

Rob Compton moved to Massachusetts in search of better workplace protections after being fired in Michigan for coming out as gay. Rob soon realized, after his then-partner David wasn’t allowed to be with him in the hospital room during an emergency, that LGBTQ+ couples and families needed more. As parents who met in a social group for gay dads, they especially wanted to ensure that kids of LGBTQ+ parents were protected. “We needed more than just individual protections,” says Rob, “we needed protections for our families.”

For Hillary Goodridge, an experience in a hospital also crystallized her understanding of the need for legal protections for LGBTQ+ families. After Julie gave birth to their daughter under harrowing circumstances, Hillary wasn’t allowed to visit baby Annie in the NICU because she and Julie had no legal relationship. Finally, she told the hospital that she was Julie’s sister so she could see her own daughter. A few years later, they heard from friends about the case that Mary Bonauto and GLAD were putting together and realized that they could help.

To win protections and to fight discrimination, there is no better organization to support.

Hillary Goodridge

“She was her usual amazing self,” Hillary says of their initial meeting with Mary about the case. “She wrote out a timeline for how she envisioned this would go, and she was absolutely spot on,” she says. “I still have that piece of paper.” Hillary and Julie soon became lead plaintiffs in the

Hillary and Julie Goodridge posing with their daughter Annie in front of a dark gray backdrop.
Hillary (right) and Julie (left) Goodridge
with their daughter Annie

case that would change the course of LGBTQ+ history.

Now, 20 years later, they all have a perspective on the current moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ justice. They all expressed hope that the LGBTQ+ community can unite to both defend its most vulnerable members and to ensure that we do not lose ground on any hard-won victories.

As a Black gay man, David says he’s been encouraged by how communities of women, people of color, and trans people have been able to come together, but says that more collaboration and unity is needed. He says he appreciates GLAD’s unwavering commitment to diversity and inclusion. “We’ve stuck to our plan to include everyone going forward,” Wilson says of GLAD.

Hillary Goodridge remarks that GLAD is uniquely poised to protect and defend our community in the face of all the current challenges. “Over the decades, look how GLAD has delivered justice to the world and has always prevailed,” she says. “To win protections and to fight discrimination, there is no better organization to support.”

Donate today in honor of the courageous Goodridge plaintiffs, including Hillary, Julie, Rob, and David.