Will We Still Have Marriage Equality 20 Years From Now?

My home state of Massachusetts celebrated 20 years of marriage equality on May 17, thanks to the landmark decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that preceded by 11 years the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states in 2015.

In 2004, at 12:01 a.m., the city of Cambridge became the first in the nation to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and at 9:15 a.m., the first couple was married there.

Cambridge takes pride in this status, and over the course of a three-day celebration recently, the Office of Mayor Denise Simmons (who became the first African-American lesbian mayor in the country in 2008) and the city hosted several events with guest speakers such as LGBTQ+ ally Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who remarked, “It is an honor to call the Commonwealth of Massachusetts my home because of groundbreaking, humanity-centered, and justice-actualizing decisions like this one.”

Addressing an audience at City Hall, Pressley said of the history-making city: “I often use Cambridge as a way to get my colleagues to do things.”

Attendees at the events included former state Rep. Byron Rushing, who played a critical role in legalizing same-sex marriage, and Marcia Hams and Susan Shepard, who were the first couple to receive a same-sex marriage license in Cambridge on May 17, 2004.

“I want to give a big shout-out to all the lawyers, organizations, and activists, particularly the plaintiff couples, who brought the case of marriage equality to our courts in Massachusetts,” Hams told the audience at City Hall. “I especially want to thank Chief Justice Margaret Marshall of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, who ruled in our favor for equality and liberty for us all, including marriage.”

Since 2004, I’ve officiated more than 250 LGBTQ+ couples’ nuptials, including that of Mayor Simmons. When interviewed for the 20th anniversary, I was asked to show photos. I had to sort them into three piles, as I’ve done with heterosexual couples — highlighting that we are, like everyone else, deceased, divorced, and still together.

Looking back at advances since 2004, such as the enactment of hate crime laws, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and DOMA, the advent of marriage equality, same-sex adoption, and the national focus on anti-homophobic bullying, it’s clear the LGBTQ+ community has come a long way since the first Pride marches half a century ago.

When you reside as I do at the intersection of multiple identities, the 20th anniversary of marriage equality in Massachusetts is also the 70th anniversary of the historic U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education that upended this country’s “separate but equal” doctrine, adopted in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896.

However, victory comes with backlash.

On this year’s anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, African-American and Latinx-American students continue not only to attend segregated schools (here in Boston and across the nation), but also overwhelmingly to attend high-poverty urban ones with metal detectors. Sadly, not only has policing-while-schooling doubled since 2001, but so has the school-to-prison pipeline.

As for us LGBTQ+ Americans, bigotry works in this political climate. Anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the U.S. has taken an even harder-right political turn since Trump. And with a Trumped-up Supreme Court, of which five justices are anti-choice for women, the uber-conservatives have eroded decades-long civil rights gains and the Constitutional mandate of separation between church and state.

With Roe v Wade overturned in 2022, many of us are worried about what will happen to reproductive justice, marriage equality, our right to same-gender intimacy, and the fight to combat hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation bills.

Most of those bills target our transgender population — to date, 552 bills in 42 states. These bills ban trans people from bathrooms, self-chosen pronouns, sports, gender-affirming care and drag queen story hours, just for starters. Restricting transgender rights works for Trump’s evangelical base, who fervently hope it’ll help the GOP in the coming presidential election. Consequently, the Human Rights Campaign has declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans.

Marriage equality celebrations throughout Massachusetts were both joyous and worrisome. The joy of 20 years is an important milestone. However, many wonder if same-sex marriage will still exist 20 years from now.

“We must continue to fight,” Rushing told the audience in the Kendall Center Public Lobby in Cambridge. “It might appear that we cannot win in this polarized climate, but we can, and we must. I imagine a world in 20 years where gay marriage is incredibly ordinary.”