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Activists weigh in on Massachusetts opinion

Activists weigh in on Massachusetts opinion

The Massachusetts supreme judicial court on Wednesday reaffirmed its November ruling on same-sex marriage, informing state lawmakers that a proposed civil unions bill would not pass muster. Only full marriage rights would provide same-sex couples with equal protection under the state constitution, the court said. Gay rights advocates closely watching the case were among the first to respond to the court's opinion. "The court looked at this issue as a matter of principle, not of politics," said Mary Bonauto, of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the group that argued the case before the high court. "While we understand that some find civil unions to be a good compromise in this debate, the fact is, it does not equal marriage and does not provide the same protections and rights that come with marriage." GLAD represented the seven same-sex couples who won the historic court victory ending marriage discrimination in the state on November 18; it also filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the plaintiffs to the supreme judicial court on January 12. Gay legal advocacy group Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund also filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the court. "Lesbian and gay people are not being treated equally as long as we are denied full marriage equality, and Massachusetts's highest court made that clear," said David Buckel, director of Lambda's Marriage Project. "Within a few months same-sex couples in Massachusetts will begin getting married. They will be able to visit their spouses in the hospital, make decisions about each other's health care, and be fully recognized as parents of their children. Antigay groups may proceed in efforts to amend the state's constitution to carve out an exception to the time-honored guarantee of equality. As that debate moves forward, people will see same-sex couples who are legally married, and they will see that in seeking to protect their families, these married couples pose no threat to society." "It comes as no surprise to most people that the court upheld its earlier ruling for equality and fairness," said Cheryl Jacques, president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign and a former Massachusetts state senator. "In handing down Goodridge, the state's highest court did the only thing it could do in the face of such glaring discrimination against hard-working, tax-paying couples and their children in Massachusetts. Today the court reaffirmed its fair-minded and historic decision. As a former legislator, I'm confident that lawmakers will focus on what's important to Massachusetts families and embrace this as a positive step forward. It's time to turn attention to important issues that strengthen the families of Massachusetts, rather than focusing on a divisive and costly battle to write discrimination into the state constitution." Evan Wolfson, executive director of New York-based Freedom to Marry, also responded: "Marriage brings tangible as well as intangible protections to families that matter to gay people just as to nongay people. Equal means equal, and separate and unequal regimes such as marriage for some couples and civil unions or other lesser protections for other couples violate the constitutional command of equality. It is time to embrace equality and let these committed couples wed. On May 17, 2004--the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education--civil marriage licenses should be issued without discrimination to same-sex couples willing to take on the commitment and follow the rules and responsibilities of marriage. Elected officials should follow the law and do what is clearly right for families--provide the full measure of support and equal respect without delay." "Massachusetts's highest court has now made it clear that two people who fall in love and form a committed relationship should not be denied the right to protect their relationship through marriage just like any other couple," said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. "The court says that a civil union system can never be really equal," added Matt Coles, director of the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "If you give all couples the same state legal protections, the only possible explanation for saying same-sex couples are in a union instead of a marriage is to say they are less worthy." A December poll by the University of Massachusetts found that 59% of registered voters in the state agreed with the court's decision in Goodridge, while 37% disagreed. A Boston Globe poll taken shortly after the November 18 decision was rendered showed that 53% of voters oppose an amendment banning same-sex marriage rights and only 36% support it. And a poll in October by Decision Research found a solid majority of voters--by a margin of 58% to 38%--believe that civil rights, such as the right to marry, should not depend upon the approval of voters. Patrick Guerriero, head of the gay political group Log Cabin Republicans and a former Massachusetts state legislator, said, "This opinion means that all Massachusetts citizens in loving and committed relationships will be treated equally by the state. This ruling in no way interferes with religious freedom, no matter what propaganda is put forward by opponents of family fairness. No church, synagogue, or mosque will be forced to change its beliefs or practices. This is about our government treating all citizens equally and fairly."

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