The greatest story ever told

A former Boston Phoenix  news editor tells what it was like to cover Goodridge , the Bay State’s history-altering same-sex-marriage decision  
By SUSAN RYAN-VOLLMAR  |  November 15, 2006

It was one thing to edit the Phoenix’s coverage of the clergy-sex-abuse scandal as a Catholic. It was something else to edit the paper’s coverage of 9/11 as, well, an American. But it was another thing entirely to direct the paper’s coverage of the story of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. For me, a lesbian raising a child with my partner of 20 years, the story of Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health was personal in a way the clergy-sex-abuse and 9/11 stories weren’t. I was deeply engaged — and enraged — by the first two stories. But the story of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts changed my life.

Shortly after 10 am on November 18, 2003, when the Supreme Judicial Court released its much-anticipated ruling on the case of seven same-sex couples suing the state of Massachusetts for the right to marry, I was out in the parking lot next to the Phoenix office building sitting in then–Phoenix media critic Dan Kennedy’s car. (We were using the radio in his car to listen to a news station to learn the result of the ruling. Minutes after the Goodridge decision was released, everyone in the world, it seemed, was trying to log on to the SJC Web site to read the ruling. We couldn’t get on the site; in desperation, we ran outside to his car.)

ROCK MY WORLD: Julie (left) and Hillary (right) Goodridge’s lawsuit paved the way for gay marriage in Massachusetts.

We heard a news report on WBZ. The court had said that lesbian and gay couples should be allowed to marry, but it had given the state legislature 180 days to amend state laws to comply with its ruling. The news reporter didn’t seem to know what that meant. What if lawmakers refused to comply? Would gay couples be allowed to marry or not? It was a question that no one could answer. Immediately following the ruling, politicians, including Governor Mitt Romney and Attorney General Tom Reilly, insisted that the ruling did not call for civil-marriage rights for gay couples. Meanwhile, advocates, such as Mary Bonauto, the attorney for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders who argued Goodridge before the court, insisted that it did.

Not knowing made me crazy. At the time of the ruling, I was three months pregnant with my partner Linda’s and my second child. The ability to get married, I knew, would give my family the financial security we needed for one of us — me — to quit working in order to stay home with our kids. Coming back to work after the birth of our first child broke my heart. It was an entirely unexpected reaction. It wasn’t just that we knew going into parenthood that we couldn’t afford to have one of us stay at home. It was that we didn’t expect to actually want that. We were both in our late 30s and fully engaged in our careers. We were, we thought, a family ready-made for day care. But that was how we felt before the baby was born. After she came, everything changed.

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Mitt Romney, Culture and Lifestyle, GLBT Issues,  More more >
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