Thursday, June 13, 2024

A pride flag waves above the Cambridge Dance Party of 2015 in front of City Hall. (Photo: Myles Tan via Flickr)

Massachusetts celebrated 20 years of marriage equality on Friday, thanks to the landmark decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. This decision preceded the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling by 11 years, with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. 

In 2004, at 12:01 a.m., Cambridge was the first city in the nation to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. At 9:15 a.m., the first couple was married. 

Cambridge takes pride in being the first, and over the course of three days over the past week, the city and the office of Mayor E. Denise Simmons – who became the first African American lesbian mayor in the country in 2008 – hosted several events with guest speakers such as LGBTQ+ ally U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

“It is an honor to call the Commonwealth of Massachusetts my home because of groundbreaking, humanity-centered and justice-actualizing decisions like this one” to be the first City Hall to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Pressley told the audience in Sullivan Chamber. “I often use Cambridge as a way to get my colleagues to do things.”

Also at the events were guest speakers including former state representative Byron Rushing, who played a critical role in legalizing same-sex marriage, and Marcia Hams and Susan Shepherd, who were the first couple to get a same-sex marriage license in Cambridge on May 17, 2004.

“I want to give a big shout-out to all the lawyers, organizations and activists, particularly the plaintiff couples who brought the case of marriage equality to our courts in Massachusetts,” Hams told the audience at City Hall. “I especially want to thank Chief Justice Margaret Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, who ruled in our favor for equality and liberty for us all, including marriage.”

Since 2004, I’ve officiated more than 250 LGBTQ+ couples, including Mayor E. Denise Simmons’s nuptials. When interviewed for this 20th anniversary, I was asked to show photos. I had to sort them into three piles, as I’ve done with heterosexual couples, highlighting that we are like everyone else: deceased, divorced and still together.

Looking back at advances since 2004, such as passage of hate crime laws; the repeal of the military Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and federal Defense of Marriage Act; the legalization of marriage equality and same-sex adoption; and anti-homophobic bullying becoming a national concern, among a few, the LGBTQ+ community has come a long way since the first Pride marches. 

When you live at the intersections of multiple identities, as I do, the 20th anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts is also the 70th anniversary of the historic U.S. Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education. This ruling upended this country’s “separate but equal” doctrine, adopted in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896. 

Victory comes with backlash, however.

As of this year’s anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, African American and Latinx American students continue to attend not only segregated schools, whether here in Boston or across the nation. They attend overwhelmingly high-poverty urban schools with metal detectors. Sadly, not only has policing while schooling doubled since 2001 to the present day, but so has the school-to-prison pipeline.

As for us LGBTQ+ Americans, bigotry works in this political climate. Discrimination in the United States has taken a hard-right political turn since Trump. And with a Trumped-up Supreme Court, of which five members are pro-lifers, the uber-conservatives have eroded decadeslong civil rights gains and the Constitutional mandate of separation between church and state. With Roe v. Wade overturned in 2022, many of us are worried about what will happen to the goals of reproductive justice, marriage equality, our right to same-gender intimacy and the fight to combat hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills. The majority of them target our transgender population – to date, 552 bills in 42 states. These bills ban trans people from bathrooms, pronouns, sports, gender-affirming surgery and drag queen story hours, to name a few. Restricting transgender rights works for Trump’s evangelical base, hoping it’ll help the Republicans in this coming presidential election. The Human Rights Campaign has declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans. 

Marriage equality celebrations throughout Massachusetts were joyous and worrisome. The joy of 20 years is an important milestone, but many wonder if same-sex marriage will still exist 20 years from now. 

“We must continue to fight,” Rushing told his audience at the Kendall Center public lobby in Cambridge. “It might appear that we cannot win in this polarized climate, but we can, and we must. I imagine a world in 20 years where gay marriage is incredibly ordinary.”

The Rev. Irene Monroe is a speaker, theologian and syndicated columnist. She does a segment called “All Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM) on Boston Public Radio and a segment called “What’s Up?” Fridays on New England Channel News.