Let’s Protect 20 Years of Marriage Equality

Photo of Anita Saville

by Anita Saville

Twenty years and six months ago last week, my then-partner, Emily, ran into my home office with tears in her eyes. “We can get married!,” she blurted out, nearly choking on the words.

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled, in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, that the state constitution made it illegal to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. While Vermont had sanctioned civil unions in 2001, Massachusetts was the first U.S. state to give same-sex couples the same legal footing as heterosexual ones.

Of course, there was more to the story. The state legislature and then-Governor Mitt Romney had to weigh in before May 17, 2004, the date by which the court decision would take effect. We and thousands of other LGBTQ+ allies and supporters committed to a huge, boisterous, and ongoing presence in the State House as our elected officials decided our fate.

After much legal wrangling and posturing by those opposed to equal marriage, we had finally hurtled all obstacles and were on our way to officially getting hitched.

It Started in Cambridge. (Where else?)

Emily and I first stopped in Cambridge the day before the law went into effect. There we joined hundreds of other couples — dressed in everything from blue jeans to black ties, tuxes, and wedding gowns — to ring in our new-found right to nuptials.

The scene on May 16 was one of joyous celebration. Thousands of well-wishers set up picnics on the lawn outside City Hall, tossed frisbees, and sent up the occasional cheer. Just before midnight, city officials ushered those of us who wanted marriage licenses inside, which volunteers had elaborately decorated like a beautiful white wedding cake.

After a short program featuring multiple community leaders, Emily and I applied for a marriage license. We knew we would not use the license within the allotted 30 days because Em’s family insisted on a “real wedding.” But we wanted — NEEDED — to be part of history. Indeed, we were the eighth Party A and Party B couple to sign our intentions that night.

After finishing the formalities, we walked down the front steps of the building, where supporters snapped our photo, serenaded us with joyful songs about marriage, and tossed handfuls of colorful confetti our way. As journalists, well-schooled in the ways of the media, we became the darlings of print and broadcast outlets. Upon our arrival back home, a neighbor yelled across the street, “Hey! You’re famous!”

Two people facing the camera. One with arm over the other.
Anita and Emily at Cambridge City Hall on May 17, 2004

We can’t take this right for granted.

On September 25, 2004, Emily and I tied the knot in a tasteful ceremony at the Decordova Museum in Lincoln. Our friends and family loved it.

I cannot overstate what a major life event this was for us — after more than 20 years together. We have gained much more than all the legal and financial benefits of marriage. Suddenly, our relationship was nearly on par with those of heterosexual couples. (Full legal recognition would wait for the 2015 Obergefell decision by the Supreme Court.) I could now call Emily my wife. We could list each other as “spouse” in various medical and legal forms. I could compare details of our wedding with my physical therapist — who had also recently married. 

Twenty years later, we’ve all taken marriage equality for granted. But we do so at our peril. This hard-won civil right is clearly in the crosshairs of Justices Thomas and Alito and is an explicit target of the draconian Project 25 manifesto that the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation and homophobic Republicans are pushing. 

Such threats to the LGBTQ+ community — along with those to reproductive rights, voting rights, and other freedoms — are yet another reason to join the fight to elect Democrats up and down the ticket. I’ve chosen to do this through my local Indivisible group. I urge you to find a way to protect our freedoms that makes sense for you.