Celebrating Two Decades of Marriage Equality on the Anniversary of the Landmark Goodridge v. Department of Public Health Ruling

To mark the 20th anniversary of the culture-shifting Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling, GLAD will present the Goodridge plaintiffs with the 2023 Spirit of Justice Award

Twenty years ago, on Nov. 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued its watershed decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, making Massachusetts the first U.S. state where same-sex couples could legally marry. 

“The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all Individuals,” Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall wrote in her powerful majority ruling, which continues to be included in wedding celebrations. “It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”

GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) will celebrate this historic anniversary by presenting the Spirit of Justice Award to the 14 Goodridge plaintiffs: Gloria Bailey-Davies, Linda Bailey-Davies, Edward Balmelli, Maureen Brodoff, Gary Chalmers, Rob Compton, Hillary Goodridge, Julie Goodridge, Michael Horgan, Richard Linnell, Gina Nortonsmith, Heidi Nortonsmith, Ellen Wade, and David Wilson. The awards will be presented at the 24th Annual Spirit of Justice Award Dinner on November 9th in Boston.

GLAD filed Goodridge in April 2001 on behalf of the plaintiffs, who comprised seven couples who sought marriage licenses to achieve legal respect and protection for their relationships butwere denied because they were same-sex couples. Over the course of the litigation, the plaintiffs opened aspects of their lives to the courts, the press, and the public, and by doing so, the public saw their love and commitment for each other and their families, and their vulnerabilities as partners and parents because they could not marry. Following the SJC decision in November 2003 they, along with countless Massachusetts residents, looked forward to May 17 when marriages would begin, despite legal and political efforts to stop the first legal marriages from taking place. Thousands of people then advocated with legislators and policymakers over the next four years to defeat efforts to amend the state constitution, finally ensuring in June 2007 that the Goodridge ruling and the freedom to marry would remain the law in Massachusetts. 

The Goodridge plaintiffs advanced LGBTQ+ equality in Massachusetts and beyond, creating hope and inspiring activism nationwide. They helped to pave the way for additional marriage wins in states, the overturning of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in the U.S. Supreme Court, and, just twelve years later, the 2015 nationwide ruling for marriage equality at the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges.

“When the SJC decided Goodridge, it forever changed the standards for how LGBTQ+ people must be treated under law and raised the bar for equality across the country. This momentous victory would not have happened without the courage, commitment, and perseverance of the fourteen Goodridge plaintiffs,” said GLAD Senior Director of Civil Rights and Legal Strategies Mary L. Bonauto, who was lead counsel in Goodridge and argued before the Supreme Court in Obergefell. “Their willingness to repeatedly open themselves to public scrutiny, to share the truth of their lives with their neighbors, and to face opposition from powerful leaders and institutions, ushered in legal and cultural shifts toward greater acceptance, protection, and integration of LGBTQ+ people and families in our communities. We remain grateful for the powerful and empowering efforts of the Goodridge plaintiffs in making marriage equality a reality in Massachusetts and beyond.”

“I wanted our kids to have the same safety and security in their family as other kids, and I believed that the constitution included us and that I could be part of making that movement toward our inclusion happen,” said Gina Nortonsmith of her and her spouse Heidi’s participation in the Goodridge case. “I’m proud that our sons live in a world where they know their parents stood up for the right of people to love whomever they love.”

“We felt incredibly honored to be able to represent one family’s journey in this cause, and to hear so many stories from people of how this decision touched their lives,” added Heidi Nortonsmith. “To be associated with love and equality—that’s a blessing for sure.”

Previous Spirit of Justice honorees include Nadine Smith, Kylar Broadus, Grace Sterling Stowell, Chai Feldblum, Jose Antonio Vargas, the Honorable Eric H. Holder Jr, Phill Wilson, Jennifer Finney Boylan, Urvashi Vaid, Margaret H. Marshall, Deval Patrick and his family; Reverend Irene Monroe; Bishop Gene Robinson; Beth Robinson, John Ward, Terrence McNally, Mandy Carter; Reverend William Sinkford, Tim Gill, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Tony Kushner, Laurence Tribe, and Mary L. Bonauto.

Learn more about the Spirit of Justice Award Dinner on November 9, 2023.