Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage with a decision handed down nine years ago today.

On November 18, 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that gay couples have the right to marry in the groundbreaking case Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health.

Representing seven gay and lesbian couples who had been denied marriage licenses in 2001, the law group Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) sued the Massachusetts Department of Health in Superior Court. Plaintiffs lost the case and appealed to the state's highest court.

The state argued that the exclusion was justified because “same-sex couples cannot procreate on their own and therefore cannot accomplish the 'main object' … of marriage as historically understood.”

In a 50-page ruling, the court's majority found that the state may not “deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish marry” and gave lawmakers 180 days to implement a remedy.

Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage (AFM), the non-profit which drafted the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), condemned the ruling.

“They have put their full prestige and authority behind the destruction of marriage as [between] a man and a woman,” Daniels said. “And that will have national consequences.”

The ruling set off an attempt to alter the Massachusetts Constitution to define marriage as a heterosexual union. It failed to gain sufficient support.

On May 17 of the following year, gay couples were allowed to legally marry in the state. More than 10,000 did so in the law's first four years.