Because Canada has just decided to legalize same-sex marriage, many gay rights activists throughout the United States are expressing high hopes that Massachusetts's supreme court will take a similar step within a few weeks. They predict litigation will spread to other states and that the end result--perhaps after years of lawsuits and legislative battles--will be legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. "People are going to look back 30 years from now and say, 'What were we thinking? Why would we deny committed couples the protections of marriage?"' said Evan Wolfson, a gay rights lawyer who heads the advocacy group Freedom to Marry.
The Massachusetts case involves a lawsuit filed by seven same-sex couples who sought marriage licenses in 2001. When they were rebuffed, they sued the state Department of Public Health. The case is now before the Massachusetts supreme judicial court. The state's lawyers have argued that only the legislature has the authority to redefine marriage; the plaintiffs say same-sex couples and their children
deserve the same legal protections afforded to heterosexual married couples. A similar lawsuit has been filed in New Jersey, where a judge will hear arguments this week on the state's attempt to dismiss it.
On both sides of the debate, advocacy groups expect that gay couples who marry in Canada--or any state that legalizes gay marriage--will attempt to have their marriages recognized elsewhere. However, 37 states and the federal government have adopted Defense of Marriage Acts in recent years, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Many are expecting lawsuits. Some opponents of gay marriage say their best hope, rather than fight state-by-state court battles, would be to enshrine the "man and woman" definition of marriage in the U.S. Constitution. An amendment to accomplish
that goal has been introduced in Congress; it would need two-thirds approval in both chambers and then be ratified by at least 38 states.
Matt Daniels, head of the Alliance for Marriage, which has championed the proposed amendment, believes his cause will gain momentum because of the Canadian policy change and what he expects to be a Massachusetts ruling in favor of gay marriage. "We're all sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting for the event in the courts that will push this issue to the forefront of public consciousness," Daniels said. "The real trigger won't be the Massachusetts decision, but rather the effort to export that decision."