Margaret Marshall, former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, said the contentious issue of transgender public accommodations harkens back to civil rights battles decades ago, when public spaces were reserved for white people, and fear of integration dominated legal discussion.

“The issue of public accommodations found its way in the 1960’s to the United States Supreme Court— It had to do with keeping black Americans out of motels and hotels,” Marshall said in an interview with Boston Public Radio. “What is it about us that makes us think about bathrooms and swimming pools? The issue, you might remember in the African-American context was that we couldn’t have you stay at the motel, because then you would be able to swim in the swimming pool. Somehow, we found that distasteful.”

According to Marshall, In 1960, it was swimming pools. In 2016, it’s bathrooms and locker rooms.

Massachusetts passed an anti-discrimination law in 2011 to protect the rights of transgender individuals in housing, education, and employment. A controversial provision to include public accommodations; movie theatres, restaurants, courts, public transportation, lodging, locker rooms and restrooms, et cetera, was removed.

Today, across the country, 17 other states, Washington D.C., and more than 200 cities and towns have passed public accommodation laws to protect transgender individuals from discrimination in public spaces. Yet here in Massachusetts, a public accommodations bill has been stalled in committee, and not brought to a vote in either the House or Senate. Governor Baker has repeatedly insistedthat he needs to see more details before he can make a decision. Meanwhile, states like North Carolina and South Dakota have passed legislation to limit access to public spaces —primarily bathrooms and locker rooms— for transgender individuals.

“I don’t know what the claims will be,” Marshall said, “but certainly, I think in a country which is committed to equality, free and open and easy undiscriminated access to public accommodations seems to me one of the basic rights that we established over fifty years ago.”

Margaret Marshall is the former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. She wrote the opinion in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, legalizing same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and changing the landscape of same-sex marriage in the United States. To hear her full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.