When Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, it presented an unprecedented opportunity to study the impact of legalization of same-sex marriage on same-sex relationships. This study is a part of an exploratory study of 50 married and unmarried same-sex couples in Massachusetts conducted by the Wellesley Centers for Women. In this paper, we examine whether and how legalization of same-sex marriage impacted same-sex partners' commitment to one another, presentation to others as a couple, and treatment as a couple by others. Relationships were found to generally follow a common sequence of commitment development. Roughly one quarter of the couples chose not to mark their commitment with ceremonies of any kind, while nearly three fourths of the couples had either commitment (non-legal) ceremonies, legal weddings, or both. While decisions to legally marry were largely based on gaining legal protections, unforeseen impacts on self and relationships with family, friends, and society at large revealed multiple layers of meaning. Implications of the study for public policy and social change are discussed.
Project: Exploratory Study of Same-Sex Marriage