Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name



Sociology and Anthropology




Adam, Barry (Sociology and Anthropology)




In November 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court sent issued a controversial ruling in favour of same-sex marriage in Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health. In the decade preceding the Goodridge decision, the majority of US states had passed Defense of Marriage Act statutes, barring recognition of same sex marriage, and in the years following Goodridge many states passed constitutional amendments to define marriage between one man and one woman. What sets Massachusetts apart from the rest of the United States on this issue? Through the analysis of Massachusetts newspaper reports, archival material, and interviews with lesbian and gay movement leaders, this dissertation explores the social and political factors in Massachusetts that enabled this state to emerge without a Defense of Marriage Act in place, to win a legal battle to establish legal same-sex marriage, and to fight off attempts to establish an amendment that would have overturned the Goodridge decision. Evidence indicates that 1) cultural and demographic factors facilitated the early emergence of a lesbian and gay rights movement in Massachusetts, 2) throughout the 1970's and 1980's activists gained strategic capacity and cultivated elite and grassroots allies, 3) by the 1990's the victories of the lesbian and gay movement established policy legacies and contributed to cultural change in favour of lesbian and gay people and families, and 4) during the struggle for same-sex marriage in the 2000's activists successfully drew on the accumulated strategic skills, allies, and resources amassed over decades of movement activity to not only win same-sex marriage rights but to defeat several attempts by opponents to overturn legal recognition of same-sex marriage. This study illuminates the interaction between culture, structure, and agency and underscores the critical importance of engaging political structures, employing broad-based cultural tropes, and making informed strategic decisions to advance movement success.