Originally published on Advocate.com November 20 2003 1:00 AM ET
Now that Massachusetts's highest court has declared that gay couples have the right to marry under the state constitution, the political debate begins over how the legislature should react. In its 4-3 decision, the Supreme Judicial Court gave the legislature 180 days to rewrite the state's marriage laws for the benefit of gay couples. "We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution," Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote.
The seven gay couples who filed the lawsuit and their attorney argue that the decision leaves state lawmakers little leeway to do anything but change state marriage statutes to reflect the court's decision. But some legal experts and opponents said the decision--while emphatically supporting gays' right to marriage--is ambiguous and leaves open the possibility of civil unions, similar to those granted in Vermont, rather than marriage. It also is based on the state constitution, which could be amended by
After Tuesday's ruling, Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, and other state lawmakers vowed to push for the constitutional amendment. Following similar court rulings, Hawaii and Alaska "made these kind of constitutional amendments, and I think we have to do the same thing to preserve the institution," Romney said Wednesday on NBC's Today show.
An amendment could go before voters in Massachusetts as early as 2006 if it won approval by the end of the 2003-2004 legislative session. It also would require approval during the 2005-2006 session. A joint session of the house and senate, which rejected a similar proposed amendment last year, is scheduled to meet to debate the measure in February.
Even if such an amendment makes it to the ballot in 2006, Massachusetts voters will have had two years to see that same-sex marriages pose no threat to society, says openly gay U.S. representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.). The Reverend Jerry Falwell, debating Frank on CBS's The Early Show on Wednesday, responded, "The people of Massachusetts, one of the more liberal states, will do
what Hawaii and other liberal states have done. They'll say no to it."