Couple who were plaintiffs in Mass. same-sex marriage lawsuit separate

July 22, 2006|By ELIZABETH MEHREN | ELIZABETH MEHREN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BOSTON -- The couple who lent their name to the lawsuit that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts have separated, a family spokesman confirmed yesterday.

Julie Goodridge, 49, and Hillary Goodridge, 50, were married May 17, 2004, the first day that same-sex couples were permitted to wed in Massachusetts under the terms of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.

The landmark 4-3 decision by this state's Supreme Judicial Court revolutionized the concept of marriage as Massachusetts became the first state to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. No other state has followed suit, although Connecticut has legalized same-sex civil unions - which were permitted in Vermont when the Goodridge decision came down.

On the heels of Goodridge, 20 states have passed constitutional amendments to classify marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and at least 19 states - among them, Massachusetts - are exploring constitutional amendments that would bar same-sex unions.

The Goodridges, who selected a common surname after perusing their families' histories, declined to comment yesterday on the split. The couple have a 10-year-old daughter, Annie.

Speaking for the couple, spokeswoman Mary Breslauer said yesterday that "Julie and Hillary Goodridge are amicably living apart. As always their number 1 priority is raising their daughter. Like the other plaintiff couples in this case, they made an enormous contribution toward equal marriage, but they are no longer in the public eye and request that their privacy be" respected.

Breslauer would not speculate on whether the pressures associated with the long legal battle had contributed to the Goodridges' breakup. Seven same-sex couples acted as plaintiffs in the Massachusetts lawsuit.

"I think this is much more about recognizing that plaintiff couples, even those that are at the center of the storm, are simply at the end real people with real lives," Breslauer said. "Relationships and marriages are both precious and vulnerable, all at the same time, and theirs is no different."

Breslauer said the Goodridges have not filed for divorce.

More than 8,000 same-sex couples have traded vows in Massachusetts since the Goodridges walked down the aisle of a Unitarian church, while wedding guests merrily sang "Here Come the Brides."

About 45 gay and lesbian couples have divorced, according to state figures.

Lisa Barstow is the communications director for the Massachusetts Family Institute, the organization at the forefront of the move to end same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Yesterday Barstow said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with Annie, the Goodridges' 10-year-old daughter, and that's really all we choose to say about this. This is a personal matter, and I think we need to treat it with that kind of dignity."

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, also declined to discuss what he described as "a personal thing between the Goodridges."

But Foreman said he did not think the split by the couple who became the symbolic face of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts would hamper the broader effort to permit gays and lesbians to wed elsewhere.

"It will have no impact on the struggle for marriage equality," he said. "This is a long-term struggle, and we're going to have advances and setbacks along the way."

At Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD - the Boston-based nonprofit organization that brought the historic lawsuit on behalf of the seven same-sex couples - executive director Lee Swislow said, "We're just very sad. We care so much about Hillary and Julie. They were so brave and so powerful, and they made a difference."

Elizabeth Mehren writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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