Susan Jacobs recommends Courting Equality in the Jewish Journal

Three local women have collaborated to create a comprehensive book that traces the gay marriage movement in Massachusetts. “Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages” was released on the third anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts.

Written by Salem activists Pat Gozemba and Karen Kahn, with pictures by Beverly-based photojournalist Marilyn Humphries, the work follows the gay struggle for social justice in the Bay State.

The candid photographs by Humphries, whose freelance work has appeared in the New York Times, Bay Windows and the Boston Phoenix, among other publications, form the backbone of the book. The eloquent prose provides context and background. Presented together, the pictures and text paint a passionate portrait of a milestone event that changed the course of history in Massachusetts.

The glossy, large format book aptly captures the steely determination and ultimate jubilation experienced by those most intimately involved in the battle to bring equal civil rights to same-sex couples.

“Courting Equality” focuses primarily on the seven same-sex couples, known as the Goodridge plaintiffs, who got the ball rolling in April 2001, by suing the Department of Public Health for the right to marry. The writers interviewed all the couples, as well as other key players in the battle. Humphries, who spent several years on the front line with her camera, captured the passion and outrage of supporters on both sides of the contentious issue.

While “Courting Equality” has a more limited audience than a pictorial retrospective on the work of Picasso, which your average heterosexual household would probably rather have on the coffee table anyway, that shouldn’t diminish the value of this important book. Gozemba, Kahn and Humphries have created an historically accurate work that should be included in every library.

For those who may not remember, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted equal marriage benefits to same-sex couples in a landmark decision November 18, 2003. With the ruling, the Bay State became the only one in the union to recognize and legally sanction the right of homosexuals to marry. City and town officials began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples May 17, 2004.

Kahn and Gozemba personally hold one of the 9,700 same-sex marriage licenses that have been issued in Massachusetts since the law went into effect three years ago. The interfaith couple wed in September 2005 at Cambridge City Hall.

Kahn and Gozemba were not surprised that Massachusetts was the first state to legally sanctify same-sex marriage. “Massachusetts has strong civil rights traditions. It was the first place to abolish slavery,” pointed out Kahn.

“Marriage was not a top priority for us,” admitted the 51-year-old Kahn, who works as communications director for a non-profit health care organization. “But seeing the reaction of the Right Wing, the Catholic Church, and our Mormon governor made me aware that we suffered from an oppression that we weren’t even aware of.”

“Marriage is the primary institution of social order in our country. It’s the way all benefits, such as pensions and social security, flow to people. We must have access to this,” said Gozemba, who is 62.
Gozemba, a former professor of English and Women’s Studies, likens the struggle to the one fought by blacks decades ago. “We do not want to drink from the ‘gay’ water fountain. Separate but equal is not good enough,” she said.

To change the law on a federal level, she believes individual states must be targeted. “African Americans worked state-by-state for integration of the schools. By the time the issue got to federal court, it was already law in many areas. We must follow the same strategy,” Gozemba said.

Gozemba thinks progress is being made. “Ten states currently recognize gay relationships; seven of them offer marriage or civil union by one name or another. But we have a mishmash of recognitions — marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships. It’s uneven and unclear from state to state,” she said.

Kahn and Gozemba point out that concerns that gay marriage might destroy the ‘traditional family unit’ have proven unfounded. “No one’s heterosexual marriage has been damaged as a result of the ruling, and Massachusetts continues to have the lowest divorce rate in the United States,” Gozemba said.

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One response to “Susan Jacobs recommends Courting Equality in the Jewish Journal

  1. The intelligible message

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