Thank You, Mary Bonauto and GLAD

Thank You, Mary Bonauto and GLAD for Four Years of Equality!


Four years ago today at a press conference in Boston, on November 18, 2003, Mary Bonauto of Gay Lesbian Advocates&Defenders and the Goodridge plaintiffs taught me an important lesson in American democracy. Their visionary leadership and commitment made me see that marriage equality for LGBT families is an issue of democracy, a fundamental civil right. I had not seen it that way. Marriage was not on my political agenda. I’m a convert now married to Karen Kahn.

If my friend Marilyn Humphries, Bay Windows lead photographer, had not neglected to bring her largest photo flash card in to Boston that day, I might have missed the historic press conference. I got the job of fetching the flash card from Marilyn’s house and schlepping it to the Omni Parker Hotel. I stayed for the press conference. A year and a half later, Karen Kahn and I would begin writing a book featuring Marilyn’s photographs, Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages (Beacon Press, 2007).

Here’s part of what we said in the book about Nov. 18, 2003:

The Marriage Victory Press Conference

            On the walk over to the Omni Parker House Hotel, Bonauto and the plaintiffs had TV, radio, and print media trailing them and jockeying for the best shots and sound bites. The proud smiles on the faces of the plaintiffs told it all. Bonauto began the press conference. “Wow this is a very, very big day; it’s obviously a historic day . . . because finally all families in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will have the opportunity to be equal families under the law.” With her voice ringing with conviction, Bonauto gave pause, “A court finally had the courage to say that this really is an issue about human equality and human dignity, and it’s time that the government treat these people fairly.”

            Continuing her effort to ensure that Massachusetts did not adopt civil unions, Bonauto clearly asserted her understanding of the ruling: “The issue in this case was whether or not it was constitutional to exclude same-sex couples from civil, legal, governmental marriages as well as all the protections that flow from that. That’s what the court ruled on today. It didn’t rule on a parallel system.” Bonauto then insisted that the plaintiffs be allowed to speak.

Protections of Marriage

            Julie Goodridge pointed out that the court affirmed what they had always felt: “We are a couple that is worthy of the protections of marriage, and that after 16 and a half years Hillary and I are finally going to be able to get married and protect our family.”

            Gary Chalmers, with Rich Linnell at his side, told the assembled press, “My partner of 15 years, finally after today, will be my official spouse come June. . . . We’ll finally be able to have health insurance and so many other legal benefits we need to keep our family safe and secure.”

Marriage as a Civil Right

            Poignantly, Wilson and Smith, both African American, noted the important civil rights dimension of the decision. Wilson smiled as he asserted, “It means I’m a full citizen with all the rights of a citizen.” Expanding on that point, Smith insisted, “The struggle for people to be treated equal is a long one, and it continues, and it gives me chills to think about that connection.”

            Towards the end of the press conference, the media questioned Bonauto again about why civil unions would not satisfy her clients. Her concise reply had probably been on her mind since the
Vermont legislature invented civil unions. “We think the word ‘marriage’ is one of the important protections because everybody knows what it means.” A TV reporter then asked her if she would get married and the usually very businesslike Bonauto looked down and then with a broad grin looked up, “You betcha!”

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