Recently, New York became the latest state to legalize same-sex marriage when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marriage Equality Act into law in June. A 62-member Senate had approved the bill by a vote of 33-29. The bill officially took effect July 24th, which marked 30 days since Governor Cuomo signed it into law.
However, this monumental decision by the New York State Assembly did not come without a fight. Lawmaker Daniel O’Donnell, the first openly gay member of the New York State Assembly, introduced a same-sex marriage bill in 2007, which was approved by the Assembly three times in five years, but subsequently rejected by the Senate each time. The final push towards legalization came with a switch in the opinion of four of the New York representatives (three Democrats and one Republican). Some of the representatives admitted that they were swayed by the public opinion in their districts while others revealed a change in their moral stance on the issue.
Following the Supreme Judicial Court’s 2004 ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Boston Bar Association filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in the case, seven same-sex couples who argued that Massachusetts law subjected them to discrimination by denying them the right to obtain civil marriage licenses. When the Massachusetts law officially took effect on May 17, 2004, we became the sixth jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage after the Netherlands, Belgium, Ontario, British Colombia, and Quebec. Since then, several U.S. jurisdictions (Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and now New York) have joined Massachusetts in enacting similar measures to legalize same-sex marriage.
President Obama’s 2011 decision to direct the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) against lawsuits challenging its constitutionality marked a significant shift in the political atmosphere surrounding the issue. There are currently two cases challenging the constitutionality of DOMA in the First Circuit: Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services and Gill v. Office of Personnel Management.
The BBA takes pride in its record of supporting equal rights and universal access to justice as the issue of same-sex marriage progresses. We will continue to monitor same-sex marriage issues throughout Massachusetts and in Washington.
Government Relations Department
Boston Bar Association