Total, irrevocable victory. That was the message delivered when Mary Bonauto, GLADís civil-rights project director and the lead attorney on the Goodridge case, and 13 of the 14 plaintiffs addressed a packed press conference at the Omni Parker House Tuesday.
The comments of Linda Davies and Gloria Bailey, a couple marking their 33rd anniversary, conveyed the tenor of the event. "Without a doubt, this is the happiest day of our lives," Bailey said, her voice breaking with emotion. "The most important thing for us is knowing that whatever comes ahead for the rest of our lives, we now know we can be at each otherís side."
"I have to tell you all that when we were driving from the Cape this morning and heard the decision on the radio, Gloria burst into tears," Davies added. "As soon as I could, I finally asked her to marry me, because she told me she couldnít answer until we could legally do it. And Iím happy to tell the world she said yes."
Despite an array of significant unknowns attached to the Supreme Judicial Courtís Goodridge decision ó how the legislature will respond over the upcoming 180 days (see "Next Stop, Beacon Hill," page 16), what the publicís response to the ruling will be, whether Governor Mitt Romney and other backers of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage will gather support heading into the next Constitutional Convention ó the exultant relief demonstrated by Davies and Bailey was ubiquitous.
"After 16 and a half years, Hillary and I are finally going to be able to get married and protect our family," Julie Goodridge said. Her voice, too, trembled as she spoke. David Wilson struck a similar note as his partner, Robert Compton ó who was on crutches due to recent hip-replacement surgery ó looked on. "We never have to worry again about going to the hospital and negotiating our way through the administration, hospital scenes, and finally recovery, because now we have the opportunity to protect each other through marriage," Wilson said. "Thank you so much." Gina Smith introduced her partner, Heidi Norton, and then made a slight gaffe that had the audience chuckling. "In 1980, I asked her ó sorry, in 1990. Itís been a long time, but itís been good. I asked her to marry me, and Iím so thrilled that Iím going to be able to do that."
Bonauto, for her part, seemed equally convinced that the battle had been won. "Iím sure some people in the legislature ó we know a few of them, at least ó will not like this outcome," she said. "But really, in the next 180 days, thereís nothing I can think of that could be done to undo this constitutional ruling."
At one point, Bonauto even expressed optimism that the SJCís ruling would, eventually, help transform the attitudes of people currently opposed to gay marriage. "Governor Romney, and really, I think, people across this state, will eventually come to see that this ruling is a good thing," Bonauto said. "Weíre talking about people who really are part of Massachusetts ó who are making their homes here, who are raising their children here, who are Little League coaches, who are literacy volunteers, who are really contributing to the community.... I think once everyone understands more the human stakes, and the consequences of discrimination, they are much more likely to be with us."
Itís possible that Bonauto, caught up in the elation of the day, was underestimating the ideological tenacity of social conservatives who see gay marriage as one more sign that the worldís going to hell (see "The Right Mobilizes," this page). But even if she was, it doesnít really matter. The SJCís Goodridge ruling would have been inconceivable 50 years ago, or even 25. Recent polls have shown widespread support in Massachusetts for a legal right to gay marriage. And however hard politicians like Romney push for a constitutional amendment to "protect" marriage in the months and years ahead, theyíll be swimming against the Zeitgeist. Whatever backlash Goodridge may prompt on Beacon Hill, Bonauto and the plaintiffs have every reason to celebrate.