Joel Benjamin photographs first couples to marry in Massachusetts 10 Years Later

Tomorrow, May 17, marks the tenth anniversary of the freedom to marry coming to Massachusetts, the first state in the United States (and only the fourth place in the world, following the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium) where same-sex couples could legally marry. In a lawsuit before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders - argued by GLAD's Mary Bonauto - made the case for marriage for all couples in the state. It's a big anniversary - a landmark day for the history books that helped to kickstart so much of the movement and lead us to where we are today: Same-sex couples have the freedom to marry in 17 states and our nation's capital, judges have struck down anti-marriage laws in an additional 7 states (with more limited marriage rulings in an aditional 4 states), 59% of the American people support marriage for same-sex couples, and the core of federal marriage discrimination has been dismantled. 

To reflect on this anniversary, Massachusetts-based photographer Joel Benjamin snapped photos of the pioneering gay and lesbian couples who married in the Bay State in 2004, including portraits all seven of the couples from the Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health case. 

"For years, marriage equality, to me, was both a far off fantasy and a civil rights issue," Joel said. "Then, in 2004, seven brave same-sex couples, along with their advocates, challenged this disparity with stunning results. Ten years later, we all know that the sky didn't fall, no marriages were harmed, the earth still turned."

 Joel kicks off his exhibit with an opening reception at the Boston Center for Adult Education tonight, May 16, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. As he prepared for the exhibit, Joel shared some of his thoughts about ten years of marriage in the United States - and in his home state of Massachusetts - with Freedom to Marry. 

Q: What were your motivations for this project? 

JB: I've been really documenting the LGBT community for probably 30 years - so when someone I worked with at the Boston Center for Adult Education suggested that it's going to be the 10-year anniversary of marriage in Massachusetts, I thought it could be a good occassion to celebrate how far we've come. 

I had to wrap my head around how we wanted to document this. It was kind of finding people through the marriage equality grapevine and taking their portrait ten years later.

Then I started connecting one by one with the plaintiffs - that was really powerful for me.

Q: What do you want people to take away from this project?

JB: Everyone just takes away how much love there is in each of the pictures. I don't know what I expected when I started out, but that's kind of what you take away: These are pictures from couples and families who are in love - the same-sex part is secondary. That's the whole point of marriage equality.

Q: How have your personal story and own experiences as a gay person impacted your work on this series?

JB: For gay men of a certain age, the idea of gay marriage wasn't even a fantasy: It wasn't even something we could conceive of. So it's pretty amazing seeing it come to fruition - when the verdict came down in Massachusetts, it was stunning. I remember when someone referred to their husband as a husband for the first time and knowing that it was a legal term. We weren't even sure where it was going to go - but one thing is clear: We're certainly living in an exciting time.

Q: What have you learned from your work on this project?

JB: Particuarly shooting the plaintiffs, I was just really honored to take their picture. They really did change history. Really, the marriage fight took off in Massachusetts, and it's gone on to so many different places. These seven couples and their advocates really changed the course of history.

Q: Tell us more about the show tonight, and what are the next steps for the project?

JB: The show I'm in at the Boston Center for Adult Education features two other photographers - Marilyn Humphries and Susan Simons. They photographed these couples back in 2004, too, so the whole show is nicely resonant of those amazing few months in Massachusetts.

I think this exhibit is the culmination of this project. I've done a few other things with BCA, and now I'm looking forward to figuring out what the next big project will be.

In this exhibit, everyone's portrait is accompanied by a picture of them from the date they got married and how long they've been together. We've only been able to marry for 10 years, but couples have been together for 30 or 40 years - that's one of the points of the freedom to marry.

Don't miss all of the portraits in Joel Benjamin's celebration of 10 Years of Marriage in Massachusetts