Former Massachusetts governor argues for gay marriage
January 06 2004 12:00 AM ET
Former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld and former Massachusetts attorneys general James Shannon and Scott Harshbarger are urging the state legislature to enact the supreme judicial court's ruling allowing gay marriage. In a letter to be delivered to all 200 legislators on Monday, Weld, a Republican, and Harshbarger and Shannon, both Democrats, say a civil union system would not be the same as same-sex marriage and has no legal justification, The Boston Globe reported. "We see the SJC's ruling as unequivocal: The existing ban on marriage for gay people is unconstitutional," the letter states, in part written by Harvard constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe. It urges lawmakers to take "any and all steps possible to facilitate the orderly issuance of marriage licenses to qualified same-sex couples."
Weld applauded the decision, saying he hoped to officiate at a gay wedding himself. Shannon said he signed the letter because he believes the principle of separation of powers in state government would be harmed if the legislature ignored the SJC. "If people feel so strongly about this decision that they want to upend it, as with any constitutional decision by the court, the only way to do it is by amending the constitution," he said. "I don't think that's advisable, but that's the remedy. But whatever your position on the issue, the responsible member of the legislature will do what the court has said is required."
Tribe and Renee M. Landers, president of the Boston Bar Association, also signed the letter.
Ronald A. Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which opposes the SJC ruling, said the signers' stance on gay marriage was already known. "We knew where they stood before this letter, but at least they are acknowledging that the debate is now before the legislature, and I believe that is the proper venue," he said.
The state's high court issued its landmark decision in mid November, ruling that it was unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage. The opinion, however, gave the legislature 180 days to act as it "deems appropriate" before the decision takes effect, in May. The state senate has asked the SJC for an advisory opinion on whether a bill that would establish civil unions for gay couples, while reserving marriage for heterosexuals, would conform to the ruling. Some lawmakers and legal observers have said that the waiting period was only designed to give the legislature time to bring state statutes into conformance and offers no leeway to approve anything short of marriage. Others argue that the decision leaves the door open for Vermont-style civil unions, which convey the rights of marriage without the title.