Margaret Marshall, author of Mass. marriage equality decision, to retire

Posted by John R. Ellement, Jonathan Saltzman, and Martin Finucane on


"Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, who led the state's highest court as it reshaped the Western legal world with its historic ruling approving the freedom to marry in Massachusetts, announced this morning that she would retire.

"Marshall said at a news conference that her husband, former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and she was leaving 'so that Tony and I may enjoy our final seasons together.'

"'Tony and I are both at an age where we have learned to value -- value deeply -- the precious gift of time,' she said.

"At the same time, she said, she was retiring, effective at the end of October, with 'deep regret' from work that she considered 'thrilling.'

"Marshall, 66, was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court as an associate justice in 1996 by former governor William F. Weld, becoming just the second woman on the SJC, which claims to be the oldest appellate court in the Western hemisphere, having dealt with its first case in 1692. Marshall was elevated to her current post in 1999 by then-governor Paul Cellucci.

"In 2003, Marshall authored the court's majority decision that for the first time in Western legal circles, found that marriages of same-sex couples were a lawful extension of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, the state's Constitution.

"'The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals,' Marshall wrote for the 4-3 majority. 'It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.'

"The ruling authorizing marriage equality is still echoing through the United States, on the state and federal level, and has become part of the legal debate on the meaning of equality in the 21st century, where historic views of the genders are being challenged by science and society.

... "Asked at today's news conference how she felt about critics who say that judges engage in judicial activism, she said, 'It is a buzzword and I think it's often attached to opinions where the person who's making the claim ... doesn't agree with the outcome,' she said.

"She said she grew up in South Africa at a time when there was no freedom of speech, press, or movement and that made her enjoy the 'robustness' of constitutional protections in the United States.

"'This is a great system of justice in Massachusetts,' she said, while noting it is under stress from budget cuts. "Perhaps because I grew up in a country with no system of justice that I feel so passionate about it.

... "Mary Bonauto, the lawyer for Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who argued the Goodridge case before the high court, she would never forget reading the decision for the first time.

"'I had never read those words in any opinion involving gay people at that point, let alone in a marriage case,' Bonauto said.

"'Those words,' she went on, 'are as clear and as moving a statement of the legal equality of all people as we have ever seen. The ruling profoundly changed the lives of gay and lesbian people in Massachusetts, not only in providing the precious freedom to marry but also [providing] a real sense, for the first time, of equal citizenship.'"

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