In 2004 Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage. This decision was the result of a November 2003 ruling by a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that decided it is against the state’s constitution to legally prohibit gay marriage. The great part is that in Massachusetts, same-sex married couples have all the rights and benefits that heterosexual married couples enjoy unlike some states that allow gay marriage but within certain legal boundaries. When this law was passed former Governor Romney directed town clerks to only issue licenses to gay couples with residence in Massachusetts or to those who declared intentions to reside within the state. This was in accordance with a 1913 law that kept couples from marrying within the state if the marriage license would not be recognized by their state of residence. However, some towns, like Provincetown, voted to grant licenses to visiting couples but this law has since been repealed (statewide, 2008).
It would seem, that since Massachusetts grants full marriage rights to same-sex couples, there would be little left to talk about. But, in July of 2010, a U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro “ruled that the federal ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, because it interferes with an individual state’s right to define marriage.” This decision grants Massachusetts’ married gay couples the federal benefits of being legally married. This same judge ruled in favor of two cases presented by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) regarding eight gay married couples and three widows. The state’s Attorney General Martha Coakley applauded all of these decisions. According to both Tauro and Coakley, the Defense of Marriage Act only serves to discriminate and “create a distinction without meaning.”
What do voters think?
In a state that grants full legal rights to same-sex married couples, could it be that its residents are still divided in their beliefs or that they are even afraid to openly disagree with gay marriage because of potential social consequences? It appears that this could very well be the case in Massachusetts. A small study by the National Organization for Marriage and the Massachusetts Family Institute conducted a phone survey in March 2009. In this survey 306 Massachusetts residents were asked about their personal beliefs about gay marriage, if they feel that the best situation for a child is to be raised by his or her married mother and father, and, if they would fear harassment of some sort for speaking out against gay marriage. The results were surprising for a state that has been so progressive in terms of gay rights. 43% of the voters were in favor of gay marriage, 76% believed a child is best off being raised by a married mother and father, and 36% agreed that they know people who would hesitate to publicly oppose gay marriage for fear of harassment.
This is a very interesting phenomenon especially when compared to the majority of the United States where gay marriage is not legal and many might argue that supporting gay marriage can (and does) lead to harassment or social exclusion. Again, this poll only reached a very small portion (306) of Massachusetts’ population (which is a little over 6.5 million) but when put up against previous studies it indicates how people’s minds are changing. For example, a related question about the ideal way to raise a child was asked of Massachusetts voters in 2004 and 84% agreed that it was with a married father and mother. In this case, the 2009 study demonstrates the decreasing importance of heterosexual marriages to a child’s well-being to Massachusetts voters. Or, it could indicate that participants truly are afraid to oppose against gay marriage. In a country that values free speech, let’s hope it’s the former and not the latter.
- Same-sex marriage allowed? Yes, and with full rights.
- Can non-residents marry? Yes, but be aware of your state or country of residence’s laws.
- Same-sex civil unions and domestic partnerships allowed? Yes.
- Do Massachusetts’ gay married couples receive standard marriage benefits from the federal government? Yes.