Massachusetts Celebrates Gay Marriage Anniversary

Cathedra Church of St. Paul in downtown Boston shows support for LGBT rights. (Photo by Isabelle DeSisto)

By Isabelle DeSisto

May 17 marked the 10th anniversary of Massachusetts’ first same-sex marriages. Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, a landmark MA Supreme Judicial Court case, made the state the first in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

Rapid developments have since taken place within the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Today same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Carisa Cunningham, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)’s Director of Public Affairs and Education, deems this a success, but has greater designs moving forward.

“We have 19 states,” she said, “and we need 50.”

GLAD’s Senior Attorney, Ben Klein, is likewise hopeful for the future.

“When those things happen it’s reflective of where the culture in general is moving,” he said of courts striking down gay marriage bans.

GLAD initiated the lawsuit legalizing same-sex marriage in MA by suing the Department of Health on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses. After Superior Court Judge Thomas Connolly ruled in favor of the Dept. of Health, GLAD’s lawyer Mary Bonauto appealed directly to the Supreme Judicial Court – and won.

Since then, the LGBT rights movement has cast its net over a variety of issues.

For example, in June MA Gov. Deval Patrick approved a measure to provide insurance coverage for transgender medical care. His administration announced a new policy that will cover gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy through MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. The Bay State is now the third state in the nation to offer health care for this type of treatment. Several private companies already provide employees with similar options.

Groups that oppose the gay rights movement, such as the Massachusetts Family Institute, disapprove. They assert that the surgery is not a reliable treatment for gender dysphoria, a conflict between a person’s physical gender and the one with which he or she identifies.

“Those statements come from a place of lack of understanding,” said Klein. “Every major medical organization agrees that these procedures are standard.”

Despite opposition, supporters of the movement continue to celebrate developments every year.

For example, organizers indicate that 25,000 marched during Boston’s 44th annual Pride Parade, which was led by Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Patrick. Groups ranging from churches to university clubs to members of the city’s LGBT communities participated in the festivities on June 14, marking the parade’s increasing diversity. Events included dances, concerts and a worship service to conclude a week of celebration.

Cities across the country recognize Pride during June to memorialize New York City’s monumental Stonewall Riots, which are considered a catalyst of the LGBT rights movement.

By contrast, Walsh avoided 2014’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade after parade coordinators, the Allied War Veterans Council, failed to make an agreement with advocacy organization MassEquality to allow members of the LGBT community to march openly. While they would allow gays and lesbians to march in the parade, signs and clothing bearing explicit declarations of sexual orientation, such as the word “gay,” were banned.

“The reason for this rejection was a clear violation of our ‘no sexual orientation’ rule, and not that we ban gay people as reported by the press,” said the Council in an official statement. “Any[one] should be allowed to march, regardless of sexual orientation.”

Cunningham does not foresee a shift in policy anytime soon.

“As long as the same people are in charge of the parade, we aren’t going to see a change,” she said.

Ten years after GLAD’s lawyers helped to push through same-sex marriage legislation, Cunningham acknowledges that her organization still has work to do. But, “in general, increased visibility of the [LGBT] community has benefited everybody,” she said.

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