As we await the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest and perhaps ultimate same sex marriage decision in the four cases led by Obergefell, et. al. v. Hodges, it is worth recalling the breathtakingly fast (for all of us not personally disabled by marriage inequality) evolution in this country’s attitude. Can it be that less that barely 3 years ago, President Obama’s hand was forced by VP Biden’s gaffe (or was it?) to support same sex marriage? And, now, according to some pundits, the Republican party is praying that SCOTUS will strike down all state bans, to extricate the GOP from the pro-discrimination political box that they have crafted to win primaries and lose nationally. Could it be more ironic that Justice Roberts may hold the key to Republican presidential success, by siding with the liberal side of the Court against his own party’s 2012 platform, let alone its culture warriors?
As Massachusetts lawyers, it is equally worth celebrating the Commonwealth’s role in starting the ball rolling. From Mary Bonauto’s groundbreaking advocacy (she also argued the SCOTUS case last month) to Margaret Marshall’s Supreme Judicial Court leadership and eloquence in 2003’s Goodrich v. Department of Public Health, we have much to make us proud. As a state that has not always led with honor (before Plessy v. Ferguson, there was the SJC’s Roberts v. City of Boston, the seed of Plessy’s treacherous outcome) we certainly did so, here. Even the flap that followed the Goodrich decision and preceded it’s 2004 effective date, during which the Court gave the legislature the opportunity to pre-empt its ruling with marriage equality legislation, was brief and relatively contained.
Since then, has the sky not fallen, but one state after another (and D.C.) have followed suit.
When the history of this era’s civil rights development is written, Bonauto and Marshall will be recognized as giants of the ongoing national struggle to expand rights. Whatever SCOTUS decides this term, or later, we owe these women a debt of gratitude.