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orange_pin2.pngE. Denise Simmons

By Don Perry and Thomas Allen Harris

As the first openly Lesbian African-American Mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts, E. Denise Simmons has long been in the vanguard of breaking barriers and opening the way for civil and racial justice. So when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to recognize same-sex marriages, Denise and her partner, Maddy, were on the front lines.

The turning point came with the case of Goodridge v Department of Public Health (798 N.E.2d 941 – Mass, 2003). In a 50-page, 4–3 ruling on November 18, 2003, Massachusetts’ highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, ruled that it was asked to determine whether Massachusetts "may deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not. The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens." With those words, same-sex marriage was made legal in the Commonwealth. Despite two Constitutional Conventions held to overturn Goodridge, during which same-sex marriage advocates and their allies fought against concerted opposition to prevail, Massachusetts began issuing licenses for same-sex couples to marry on May 17, 2004.

When Denise began her search for a place to hold her own wedding, she and Maddy quickly realized that they would need a much larger venue than City Hall. She approached the pastor of one of the oldest African American churches, with a long history of social activism and fighting for civil rights, in Cambridge, Rev. Leslie Sterling, to ask about holding the ceremony there. To her surprise, Rev. Sterling said yes and another first was made…Denise and Maddy became the first same-sex couple to be wed at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church…continuing a tradition of activism for both Denise and St. Bartholomew.

 

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