In the 2003 case of Goodridge v. Depart­ment of Public Health, the Mass­a­chu­setts Supreme Court voted 4–3 to legalize same-​​sex mar­riage. Though the land­mark case rep­re­sented the nation’s first unqual­i­fied court vic­tory in the fight for mar­riage equality, many people from across the country dis­agreed with the decision.

The public back­lash was swift. North­eastern alumnus and adjunct pro­fessor Rod­erick L. Ire­land, then an asso­ciate jus­tice on the Mass­a­chu­setts Supreme Court who sided with the majority, received thou­sands of hateful emails, let­ters, and phone calls. Radio adver­tise­ments pressed him to step down while angry oppo­nents stalked to his church, urging mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion to excom­mu­ni­cate him. And yet Ire­land did not waver, did not think twice about con­tin­uing to serve on the bench.

Crit­i­cism is democ­racy in action,” explained Ire­land, who was sworn in as Chief Jus­tice of the Mass­a­chu­setts Supreme Court in 2010. “People have a right to their own opin­ions and hearing people say, ‘I dis­agree,’ is not some­thing a judge takes personally.”

Ire­land was one of three pan­elists who reflected on the per­sonal, public, and polit­ical ram­i­fi­ca­tions of same-​​sex mar­riage on Wednesday evening in the Raytheon Amphithe­ater. The event, “Gay Rights after Gay Mar­riage,” rep­re­sented the sixth install­ment in an edu­ca­tional series on civic sus­tain­ability, which is hosted by Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence Michael Dukakis in con­junc­tion with the Pres­i­den­tial Council on Inclu­sion and Diver­sity. The series—Con­flict. Civility. Respect. Peace. North­eastern Reflects—is orga­nized by the Col­lege of Social Sci­ences and Human­i­ties, the School of Law, and the Office of Stu­dent Affairs, and will return in 2014.

In addi­tion to Ire­land, the pan­elists com­prised Mary Bonauto, a North­eastern alumna and the civil rights director of Gay & Les­bian Advo­cates & Defenders; and Suzanna Wal­ters, a pro­fessor of soci­ology and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sex­u­ality Studies pro­gram at Northeastern.

North­eastern law pro­fessor Mar­garet Burnham mod­er­ated the two-​​hour dis­cus­sion, which chal­lenged the pan­elists to reflect on the impli­ca­tions of two land­mark deci­sions in the fight for same-​​sex rights: the 2003 case in Mass­a­chu­setts and last summer’s Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Mar­riage Act.

Bonauto served as lead counsel in Goodridge v. Depart­ment of Public Health and led GLAD’s chal­lenges to the con­sti­tu­tion­ality of Sec­tion 3 of DOMA, which defined mar­riage as a legal union between one man and one woman.

She empathized with the quartet of Mass­a­chu­setts Supreme Court judges who were cen­sured for voting in favor of same-​​sex mar­riage, saying that “no court will ever suffer as much as this one did.”

They real­ized they would take a pounding for standing for their prin­ci­ples,” she added, “but these same prin­ci­ples caused people to rally for this deci­sion, which lifted up gay people in this state and across the nation.”

According to GLAD, 54 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion cur­rently favors same-​​sex mar­riage, up from 27 per­cent in 1996.

None of this would have hap­pened without the work of people who weren’t con­tent to sit on the side­lines and got deeply involved in polit­ical life in the city, the state, and the country,” said Dukakis, who appointed Ire­land to the Mass­a­chu­setts Court of Appeals in 1990, when he was governor.

Wal­ters said mar­riage equality is a “civil rights no-​​brainer,” but ques­tioned whether the gay rights movement’s acute focus on same-​​sex mar­riage has inad­ver­tently detracted from other con­cerns within the community.

There’s only so much gay money to go around,” said Wal­ters, noting that activists spent $44 mil­lion trying to defeat Propo­si­tion 8 in the 2008 Cal­i­fornia state elec­tions. “Focusing on gay mar­riage means less focus on equal access to employ­ment and the per­se­cu­tion of the LGBT com­mu­nity abroad.”

No other social move­ment worth its salt has been so iden­ti­fied with a single civil right,” she added. “Abor­tion rights are cen­tral to fem­i­nist demands, but they never crowded out other con­cerns such as vio­lence against women.”

In the Q-​​and-​​A ses­sion, a senior studying Spanish and jour­nalism asked the pan­elists to dis­cuss the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between gay rights in the U.S. and abroad. “Our way of under­standing sexual iden­tity is par­tic­ular and not nec­es­sarily shared by other nations, which have dif­ferent his­to­ries of thinking about the body and its rela­tion­ship to desire and iden­tity,” Wal­ters said. “As we engage in inter­na­tional strug­gles around gay mar­riage, we need to under­stand the terms of the dis­course may be very different.”