Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America's First Legal Same-Sex Marriages

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America's First Legal Same-Sex Marriages

Article excerpt

Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America's First Legal Same-Sex Marriages. By Patricia Gozemba and Karen Kahn (with photos by Marilyn Humphries). Boston: Beacon Press, 2007. 224 pages. $34.95 (hardcover).

The2003 decisionbyTheMassachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which declared the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples to be unconstitutional, was a watershed moment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered (LGBT) rights in the United States. When I started this review, only one other state - Connecticut - had equal marriage rights, and another - California - had seen its courts establish those rights, only to have its voters nullify them through a constitutional amendment. But by the time this review went to print, there were five states where same-sex couples could marry, including Vermont and New Hampshire, that had legalized equal marriage rights through the legislative process, and Iowa, the first outside of relatively secular and liberal New England. (Abili legalizing gay marriage had also passed in Maine, but was being challenged by voter referendum to take place in November 2009.)

With each new success, it is increasingly likely that we will forget just how remarkable was the achievement of the equal marriage battle in Massachusetts, including not just the court decision, but the years of constitutional conventions thereafter, where a proposed constitutional ban on equal marriage was defeated. Courting Equality is a valuable record of these events in historical context, with both the authors' narrative and Marilyn Humphries' photography evoking a series of powerful political moments.

The authors make certain to place the events in their proper Massachusetts historical context, presenting John Adams' Massachusetts constitution as one unparalleled in its granting of liberty, and the state's history of being among the first, in 1 843, to legally allow for interracial marriage, and then the first in 1974 to elect an openly gay state legislator. Massachusetts, we learn, was even the place where Dr. King's oft-repeated phrase that "the arc of the moral uni verse... bends towards justice" originated, in the person of transcendentalist Theodore Parker.

But Massachusetts has seen its share of discriminatory policies, and the authors recall the 1913 law banning marriages to non-residents if those marriages are unlawful in residents' own states. …

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