Mass. high court OKs gay marriage
Couples sued state to provide marriage licenses
BOSTON, Nov. 18 — Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday opened the door for marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples, ruling that the state may not deny them licenses.
No American court has ordered the issuance of a marriage license to gay partners, effectively legalizing gay marriage.
THE CASE had become the focus of international attention. Advocates on both sides had predicted the court could make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.
The lawsuit was filed by seven gay couples who sued the state Department of Public Health in 2001 after their requests for marriage licenses were denied. A Superior Court judge dismissed their suit in May 2002, ruling that state law does not convey the right of marriage to gay couples, and the couples appealed.
The high court heard arguments in March, and hundreds of organizations and individuals across the country filed briefs on both sides of the argument.
The court had three options: instructing the state to give marriage licenses to the seven couples; upholding the state’s authority to deny same-sex couples the right to wed; or referring the matter to the Legislature. The Legislature already considering various competing proposals to outlaw or to legalize gay marriages or civil unions.
Courts in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont have previously ruled that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional, but no American court has ordered the issuance of a marriage license to gay partners, effectively legalizing gay marriage.
Since 2000, Vermont has recognized civil unions that give gay domestic partnerships many of the benefits of marriage.
Under the Supreme Judicial Court’s internal guidelines, a decision would have been due in early July. But the court waived that rule, leading to a monthslong wait for a verdict.