The decision by San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples has sounded alarm bells--not wedding bells--for advocates of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. They worry the move could undercut the steady, deliberate legal progress they've made toward equality in that state, according to The Boston Globe.
There also is increasing concern that gay and lesbian couples will return to their home states from San Francisco and file lawsuits seeking to have their marriages recognized. That could push public opinion against same-sex marriage and might eventually convince Washington lawmakers to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman. "What happened in San Francisco has not helped us at all," Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, told the newspaper. "And it arguably made things worse here."
Already a new poll by the Globe shows that a majority of Massachusetts residents oppose legalizing same-sex marriage--a significant change since the state's highest court ruled three months ago that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry. Thirty-five percent supported legalizing gay marriage, and 53% were opposed; in an earlier poll, 48% supported legalizing gay marriages, while 43% were opposed.
The poll, published in Sunday's newspaper, also found a significant majority of those surveyed want voters--not the courts or the legislature--to define marriage in Massachusetts through a statewide ballot question to amend the constitution. Also, 60% of those polled supported Vermont-style civil unions for same-sex couples, a seven-point decrease from an earlier poll. "There has clearly been a backlash against the court ruling," said Gerry Chervinsky, the president of KRC Communications Research of Newton, which conducted the poll.
This wasn't the tide of public opinion that gay rights lawyers in Massachuetts had hoped for. They deliberately picked seven same-sex couples to seek marriage licenses and then filed suit when they were denied. The case progressed to the state's supreme court, which was seen as receptive to an expanded notion of family. The court on November 18 issued its landmark ruling that gays have a constitutional right to marry. Gay rights advocates are now arguing that Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and state agencies should comply with the law and permit the licenses to be issued to gay couples. May 17 is the first day that licenses will be issued.
"In Massachusetts the argument is, we have to follow the law, not stand in the schoolhouse doors," congressman Barney Frank told the Globe. "In San Francisco they've gone in the opposite direction." Romney, who has decried the Massachusetts court ruling as "judicial activism," said Friday that the state "will abide by the law as it exists on May 17. It is of no interest, and I have certainly no intent, to do anything other than to follow the law."
Some opponents of same-sex marriage in the legislature, including house speaker Thomas Finneran, have discussed trying to change state laws before May 17. Finneran has proposed repealing the state's marriage law and replacing it with a new law that would state reasons for excluding same-sex couples from marriage. In the unlikely event the legislature passed the bill, Romney would almost certainly sign it, thereby changing the laws he has vowed to enforce.
Finneran has warned of legal "chaos" in the event that Massachusetts gay couples begin to get married in May. Legislators are considering several proposed amendments to the state constitution that would ban same-sex marriage and extend some kinds of benefits to gay couples. But the public would not vote on any amendment until 2006--30 months after gay couples could legally wed.