Massachusetts court rules against amendment to ban gay marriage
January 01 2004 1:00 AM ET
Massachusetts's highest court on Tuesday upheld a February ruling that the state legislature was within its rights to adjourn last year without voting on a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage in the state. A lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage claimed that the legislature violated the state constitution by failing to vote on an initiative that sought to put the proposed amendment on the ballot. A single supreme judicial court justice dismissed the complaint in February. Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage appealed that decision to the full court, which heard arguments in May.
In its ruling, the high court referenced a ruling it made in another case in 1992, when it said the state constitution does not give the judiciary any power to order the state legislature to act. In its lawsuit, the conservative group argued that the inaction of the legislature in 2002 should be treated as a tacit approval of the proposed amendment and that the Massachusetts secretary of state should be required to send the proposal on to this year's session of the legislature for a second vote. In order to be placed on the ballot, the amendment would have to be approved by 25% of the 200 state lawmakers during two consecutive legislative sessions. But the high court ruled Tuesday that the secretary of state's only duty is to transmit the amendment the first time and that later, if it is approved by two successive legislatures, the measure must be put on the ballot.
In November the supreme judicial court became the first in the country to rule that a state constitution guarantees gay men and lesbians the right to marry, and it gave the legislature six months to change state laws to reflect that. Although courts in other states have issued similar rulings, the court in Massachusetts went further, definitively ruling that a ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.