Just About Married

Hillary: We heard in early 2001 that GLAD [Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders] was considering a legal challenge. We called and said we’d like to support it. I remember so well when Mary Bonauto, GLAD’s lawyer, said, “We want you to be the lead plaintiff.” I was like, “Okay, fine.” I didn’t know what that meant. The first time that really hit me, I was shopping in the South End. The guy who took my Visa card was a gay man. He looked at the name and goes, “Goodridge as in Goodridge?”

From the day the SJC heard the case in March of 2003, wherever we were, we checked the court’s website every day to see if they had made a decision. We had to keep our dress-up clothes in the car in case of a press conference, which was really a pain in the neck because we went through three fashion seasons: spring, summer, fall.

Julie: I came downstairs at 8 o’clock on the day of the decision. It was time to get Annie to school. Hillary checked the site and said, “Oh my God, it’s today!”

Hillary: I stood in the middle of the kitchen, and I just totally lost it.

Julie: We knew the decision would come out at 10 a.m. So we were watching New England Cable News. Our friend Ira called on the phone. He said, “You won! I have the decision in front of me. You won.” And he started reading it over the phone. Later, we were sitting in the conference room at GLAD. It was so intense. Photographers up in your face. And then people clapped when we went in that room for the press conference. Oh my God, I was shaking. We were both shaking. We were clutching each other. It was then, standing up onstage, waiting for our turn to talk, that I felt like, “We won and we’re going to be equal.” All of a sudden, all my anxiety about being treated as a second-class citizen, having to prove myself all the time, having to say we are a legitimate family at Annie’s school–it all fell away.

Hillary: I truly believed we were going to win. Of course, there were moments, at 3 a.m., when I’d think, “Are we out of our minds? Marriage? Gay? That’s insane.”

Julie: Now, I can walk down the street holding Hillary’s hand and maybe we won’t get picked on. And maybe someday we won’t be afraid. I still won’t show any kind of physical anything with Hillary outside of the house. I’m terrified. It’s going to take a long time for that to go away. But at least I can say, “Hey, we’re married!”

The Lawyer

Mary Bonauto, 42, the civil rights project director for GLAD, was lead counsel in the suit. She and her partner have twins.

The day I started at GLAD, March 19, 1990, one of the things on my desk was a message from two women who had been together 10 years and wanted to get married. That was the first of many times that I said, “No, we can’t do this right now. We’re not anywhere close to being ready.”

In December of 1999, GLAD won a court victory in Vermont saying we were entitled to all of the state law-based protections and rights associated with marriage, and that led to civil unions in that state. After that, I had a hard time going anywhere in Massachusetts without people asking me, “If they can do this in Vermont, how come we can’t have at least as much here?”

Like the Vermont case, the Goodridge case is born of thousands of people in loving and committed partnerships who are denied marriage rights by the government. An enormous number of the people who call GLAD for legal help wouldn’t have legal problems if they could marry.

To help make our case to the public, we knew we had to find the right plaintiffs. We found some of them, and some of them found us. We were thinking about things like, Can this couple withstand having the media in their lives? Could this couple handle the stress this may create on their jobs?

I thought we could win 7-0 or lose 7-0. I believed we were right, legally and culturally and in every other way. But there are plenty of meritorious cases that have lost in the past.

We filed our brief and 11 amicus briefs [legal arguments submitted by someone not directly involved in the case] that came on our side. I felt a lot of pressure. When I was given the go-ahead by the clerk, I stood up and went over to the podium and started talking, but the green light hadn’t gone on yet. I was starting too early, which of course makes you feel like a total novice.

Both sides were grilled. In just over half an hour it was over. When the court later ruled and I went home to my family, I remember looking at my kids and thinking, “You might really grow up in a different world, where you’re not going to have this badge of inferiority on your family.”