Goodridge v. Dep’t of Pub. Health
798 N.E.2d 941 (Mass. 2003)

Facts:

  • The plaintiffs were fourteen individuals from five Massachusetts counties that were denied marriage licenses on the ground that Massachusetts does not recognize same-sex marriage.
  • They sued arguing that this violated the state constitution (i.e., due process and equal protection).
  • A number of statutory benefits are accessible only by way of a marriage license: E.g., joint state income tax filing; tenancy by the entirety; extension of benefit of homestead protection to one’s spouse and children; automatic rights to inherit property of deceased spouse who does not leave a will; etc.
  • The department argued the following interests for prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying:
    • (1) Providing a “favorable setting for procreation”;
    • (2) Ensuring the optimal setting for child rearing, which the department defines as “a two-parent family with one parent of each sex”; and
    • (3) Preserving scarce State and private financial resources.
      • Here, the Department tried to argue that you could logically assume that same-sex couples are more financially independent than married couples and thus less needy of public marital benefits.

History:

  • A Superior Court judge ruled for the department.
  • Both parties then requested direct appellate review.

Issue:
Whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry.

Holding:
No. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • Because the ban couldn’t survive rational basis review, the court did not address the issue of whether strict scrutiny should’ve applied.
    • (1) Procreation.
      • The court stated that there’s no requirement that marriage license applicants attest to their ability or intention to conceive.
      • In short, the primary purpose of marriage is NOT procreation.
    • (2) Child rearing.
      • The “best interests of the child” standard does NOT turn on a parent’s sexual orientation or marital status.
    • (3) Economy.
      • That was such a conclusory generalization; and
      • Massachusetts marriage laws do NOT condition receipt of public and private financial benefits to married individuals on a demonstration of financial dependence on each other; the benefits are available to married couples regardless of whether they mingle their finances or actually depend on each other for support.
  • In short, the marriage ban created a hardship for no rational reason and suggested that it was rooted in persistent prejudices against persons who are (or who are believed to be) homosexual.

Rule: Barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.