Cambridge Ushers In Era of Same-Sex Marriage

Harvard students, faculty

Six months after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) sanctioned same-sex marriages, Lowell House Masters Diana L. Eck and Dorothy A. Austin stood outside a packed Cambridge City Hall, watching the ruling come to life and looking forward to a wedding of their own.

Over 225 same-sex couples raced to file for their marriage licenses in Cambridge when the ruling took effect at midnight on May 17, but Eck and Austin opted to avoid the rush and have since announced plans to marry on July 4 in Memorial Church.

“It will be a celebration of our constitution, our nation, the courts—it’s a wonderful day. And there will forever be fireworks on our anniversary,” said Austin, who is a lecturer at Harvard Divinity School and associate minister at Memorial Church.

Cambridge—a city dubbed “the People’s Republic” and well known for its liberal leanings—prided itself on being the first municipality in the nation to allow same-sex couples to file for state-sanctioned marriage licenses.

Members of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA), along with a large contingent of other Harvard students, traveled to City Hall to witness the early-morning festivities.


“No one that went to the event walked away without being touched and affected by it,” said Mayor Michael A. Sullivan. “No matter how people felt about the underlying issue, you really walked away touched and reinvigorated in terms of the depth of human compassion.”

The reaction on campus was largely positive, reflecting the fact that about 77 percent of students said in a mid-December Crimson poll that they supported the SJC ruling.

But as same-sex weddings continue across the state, opponents are gearing up to challenge gay marriage on both the state and national levels, leading to uncertainty about the ruling’s long-term legacy.


The SJC paved the way for last month’s same-sex weddings with its landmark ruling on Nov. 18 declaring that homosexual couples have a constitutional right to marry.

“Barred access to the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage, a person who enters into an intimate, exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of our community’s most rewarding and cherished institutions,” the court declared in its majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, Harvard’s former general counsel.

“That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under law,” the 4-3 decision continued.

The court delayed its ruling from taking effect for 180 days in order to allow the legislature to make the necessary changes to the state laws.

The SJC opinion provoked immediate criticism from gay marriage opponents including Gov. W. Mitt Romney, who advocated for an amendment to the state constitution limiting marriage to heterosexual couples as a way to circumvent the court’s ruling.

But Cambridge politicians were just as quick to praise the decision, with two councillors announcing the day after the ruling that they would take steps to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses in the city immediately, despite the 180-day stay period.