For Immediate Release - March 06, 2015

AG Healey Urges Supreme Court to Uphold the Right to Marry Nationwide

AG Leads Filing of Multistate Brief Arguing that Laws Barring Same-Sex Couples from Marrying are Unconstitutional; Inspired by Testimonials of Those Who Say Bans Hurt Families

BOSTON – Making her voice heard on one of the most important civil rights issues of our time, Attorney General Maura Healey today led a coalition of states in filing a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the Constitution requires marriage equality nationwide.

“These cases are about fundamental issues of fairness, equality, and dignity,” AG Healey said. “Hundreds of thousands of loving and committed couples around the country are treated like second-class citizens. Tens of thousands of children suffer as a result. It is time for the Supreme Court to do the right thing – to ensure marriage equality across the country once and for all.”

AG Healey led the filing of the amicus brief pdf format of SCOTUS Marriage Equality Brief
on behalf of Massachusetts and 16 other jurisdictions, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

In total, 20 states joined briefs in support of the right to marry, including Hawaii, Minnesota, and Virginia, each of which filed a separate brief. These briefs were submitted in the cases of Obergefell v. Hodges, Tanco v. Haslam, DeBoer v. Snyder, and Bourke v. Beshear, all on appeal from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The cases have been scheduled for oral argument before the Supreme Court on April 28, 2015. 

A total of 12 states still refuse to permit marriages between same-sex couples or to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully licensed by other states. Laws in four of those states –   Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee – are now under review. A total of 21 of the 38 states (including the District of Columbia) that currently license same-sex marriages do so as a result of a federal court order finding their marriage bans to be unconstitutional. The remaining 17 states license same-sex marriages as a result of a state court order, legislative action, or a popular vote. Currently, Missouri recognizes but does not license same-sex marriages.

AG Healey’s brief argues that the continued refusal by some states to license or recognize marriages between gay and lesbian couples inflicts widespread harm on these couples and their families, including those living in Massachusetts and other marriage equality states.  Major life decisions made by married same-sex couples, including about health care, education, employment, and residency, are affected by the non-recognition of their marriages. Many couples refuse to move to or simply try to avoid non-recognition states whenever possible.

The brief pdf format of SCOTUS Marriage Equality Brief
highlights some specific harms inflicted by non-recognition states, including:

  • Not amending a child’s birth certificate to include both parents;
  • Enabling employers to deny access to healthcare coverage for spouses;
  • Denying the right to make decisions for or visit a spouse in the hospital;
  • Denying parental rights for one spouse; and
  • Not including a spouse on a death certificate

AG Healey’s brief was inspired, in large part, by a number of testimonials submitted by gay and lesbian couples and their families across Massachusetts, after the office sought input from the public last month. These stories can be found on AG Healey’s Marriage Equality Facebook page.  AG Healey encourages individuals to continue to post testimonials on the Facebook page.  A link to the page appears in the amicus brief and its contents may be considered by the Court while these cases are under deliberation.

Below are some excerpts from the dozens of testimonials submitted to the AG’s Office:

  • “I married my husband in 2005, so we will be celebrating 10 years of legal marriage in Massachusetts this summer! Every restaurant, store, and business in town has been welcoming and amazing to us as a couple. I think a lot of that is the fact that I can introduce my partner as ‘my husband’ and people immediately ‘get it’ and are supportive because of the experience of Massachusetts in Marriage Equality.”
  • “My wife and I were married in 2009 in Massachusetts. Because we had been living in Massachusetts, equal marriage was not a novelty to us. We felt lucky to be able to travel the same path that so many had already walked here. Mostly, though, it was just significant for us to publicly show our commitment to one another and have it respected, not only by those who love us, but by our state.”
  • “In 2009, I was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. I had several surgeries and several months of intense chemotherapy, including a hospital stay and several visits to the ER. If I had not lived in the Commonwealth of MA, where my spouse and I are legally married and our relationship is honored in the eyes of the medical staff, I am certain my care and my experience would have been much different. My spouse was able to come to every chemo treatment, was able to be part of my care team, help make important decisions about my care, and able to stay with me during my hospitalizations. We felt so blessed to be treated as a married couple, and know we were treated with respect, dignity and had the same equal rights as such in our city and state.”

“The testimonials submitted to us by Massachusetts couples are powerful and personal,” AG Healey said. “The Supreme Court must understand the real-world consequences of inequality. That is why we collected these stories online and used them to enhance our arguments in this brief.” 

In 2004, following the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Goodridge v. Dep't of Public Health, Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Since that time, more than 20,000 same-sex couples have married in the Commonwealth.

In 2009, AG Healey led the Commonwealth’s successful challenge of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), arguing that the law discriminated against married Massachusetts couples and their children. In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down DOMA as unconstitutional, relying significantly on many of the arguments developed in the Commonwealth’s case.

This matter was handled by Jonathan Miller, Chief of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division, and Assistant Attorney General Genevieve Nadeau and Special Assistant Attorney General Amanda Mangaser, also of AG Healey’s Civil Rights Division.

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