Respect Equality

Nation’s first openly gay AG could be America’s first out lesbian governor

“You don't want to just be the first. What's important is that you're not the last.”
Massachusetts Attorney General, and candidate for governor, Maura Healey speaks with reporters during the state’s Democratic party convention, Saturday, June 4, 2022, in Worcester, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Maura Healey never dreamed of working in government. In fact, she never imagined she’d go into politics at all. After graduating from Harvard University in 1992, where she co-captained the women’s basketball team, the Hampton Falls, N.H., native played professionally overseas for two years — no small feat for a 5’4″ point guard.

Healey, a Democrat now at the tail end of her second term as Massachusetts’s attorney general, admits her career trajectory has been a bit unorthodox.

“Mine was sort of an unlikely path,” she told Changing America in an interview.

Healey, who in January announced her bid for governor, is remarkable for a lot of reasons, among them being she’s the first female attorney general in the nation to identify as openly gay. Should she win her race in November, Healey will make history again as the state’s first elected female governor and the first out lesbian governor in America.

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“I’m honored if I can be an example for others, and I take that seriously,” Healey said. “All I want is for people to have opportunity, and if my election can help open doors for other LGBTQ young people, then I’m happy about that.”

Recalling her run for state attorney general in 2014, Healey said her sexual orientation wasn’t really a talking point, likely because Massachusetts already had LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination policies in place. At the time, Massachusetts had been issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for more than a decade, long before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

“My identity really wasn’t discussed,” Healey said. “It really wasn’t of interest.”

But that changed when she got elected.

“I came to see that it mattered for a lot of people,” she said. “After I was elected, people would come up to me and say ‘now, I think more is possible for my child.’ It was those comments that really drove home for me what having someone like me in this position could mean for people.”

“I believe that representation matters,” Healey added. “We’re only going to have the laws and policies and regulations that work for our community if those laws and policies reflect the diversity of our community.”

Since then, Healey has been joined by another openly gay colleague — Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. (Andrew Bruck, from New Jersey, briefly served as acting attorney general between July and February). A year after Healey became Massachusetts’ attorney general, Kate Brown, who is bisexual, became the first elected LGBTQ+ governor in the nation.

“That’s important too,” Healey said. “You don’t want to just be the first. What’s important is that you’re not the last.”

If there is anything the last six months have demonstrated, it is that representation really does matter. Hundreds of bills in mostly conservative-led states have been introduced — in some cases signed into law — that target the fundamental rights of LGBTQ+ people.

“Here we are in 2022, and we’re having to re-fight some of the fights that we fought – and won – years ago,” Healey said.

Healey is uniquely qualified to make that observation. In 2012, while leading the Civil Rights Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, she headed the nation’s first successful challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage for federal purposes as a union between one man and one woman.

A year later, the Supreme Court ruled that a section of the law preventing the government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. Exactly two years after that, the court ruled that every state must recognize same-sex marriages.

“When I brought our DOMA lawsuit, I remember it was a case many people didn’t think we could win,” Healey said. “Some people, including constitutional scholars, called me and told me I was wrong to bring that case, that I was going to mess up precedent and destroy the likelihood of equality for the LGBTQ community.”

“But we needed to do it,” she said. Almost a decade later, Healey and others are steeling themselves for the possibility of defending marriage equality yet again.

The Supreme Court last week overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established the constitutional right to an abortion. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito emphasized that the ruling would not affect other decisions on same-sex marriage, sex between gay couples or the right to contraception.

In a concurring opinion, however, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court’s “substantive due process precedents” set in cases like Obergefell v. Hodges — in which the court ruled that same-sex marriage is protected under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment — should be revisited.

“Now that the Court overturned a 50-year precedent, there’s no telling where they will stop when it comes to infringing on our civil rights – on contraceptive access, on marriage equality, and more,” she wrote to Changing America in an email following the court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Even without Roe, access to abortion (and marriage equality, which has not yet been challenged officially), is still legal in Massachusetts. Healey intends to keep it that way.