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


  • 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.


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

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.

No. Case reversed.


  • 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.