Supreme Judicial Court rules civil unions aren't enough, same-sex couples entitled to marriage
By Jennifer Peter, Associated Press, 2/4/2004
BOSTON -- The Massachusetts high court ruled Wednesday that nothing short of gay marriage would pass constitutional muster, setting the stage for scores of spring weddings by same-sex couples across the state.
The advisory opinion was issued about three months after the court's ruling that same-sex couples were entitled to all of the state benefits of marriage. The original ruling was vaguely written, leaving legislators with the duty of codifying into law with questions about what was expected of them.
Wednesday's ruling was more blunt and left no doubt: Vermont-style civil unions wouldn't go far enough to satisfy the court, only marriage would.
"The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal," four justices wrote in the advisory opinion. "For no rational reason the marriage laws of the Commonwealth discriminate against a defined class; no amount of tinkering with language will eradicate that stain. The (civil unions) bill would have the effect of maintaining and fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits."
The much-anticipated opinion came a week before next Wednesday's Constitutional Convention, where the Legislature will consider an amendment that would legally define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
The soonest a constitutional amendment could end up on the ballot would be 2006, meaning that until then, the high court's decision will be Massachusetts law no matter what is decided at the constitutional convention.
Scores of couples were gearing up for spring weddings, which can begin as soon as May.
At least one aspect of the case may still be subject to debate: Would marriages in Massachusetts have to be recognized legally in other states?
"We've heard from the court, but not from the people," Gov. Mitt Romney said in a statement. "The people of Massachusetts should not be excluded from a decision as fundamental to our society as the definition of marriage."
Senate President Robert Travaglini, who will preside over the constitutional convention, said he wanted time to talk with fellow senators before deciding what to do next.
"I want to have everyone stay in an objective and calm state as we plan and define what's the appropriate way to proceed," said Travaglini. "There is a lot of anxiety out there obviously surrounding the issue but I don't want to have it cloud or distort the discussion."
The White House called the ruling "deeply troubling" and said the administration would review it.
"Activist judges continue to seek to redefine marriage by court order without regard for the will of the people," said presidential spokesman Scott McClellan.
Seven same-sex couples sued in 2001 for the right to marry in Massachusetts. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in November that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, and gave the Legislature six months to change state laws to make it happen, paving the way for the nation's first gay marriage.
But almost immediately, the vague wording of the ruling left lawmakers -- and advocates on both side of the issue -- uncertain if civil unions would satisfy the court's decision.
The state Senate asked for more guidance from the court and sought the advisory opinion.
Paul Martinek, editor of Lawyers Weekly USA, said that the high court's blunt advisory opinion erases any confusion there may have been about the original decision.
"The fat lady has sung and she's singing the wedding march," Martinek said. "It's clear from reading the majority opinion that there's no basis on which the SJC will OK anything other than marriage."
Conservative leaders said they were not surprised by the opinion, and said they would redouble their efforts to pass the constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
"This now puts the pressure back on the Legislature to do their job to protect and defend marriage for the citizens of the state to allow them to vote," said Ron Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which has been leading the campaign.
Mary Bonauto, an attorney who represented the couples who filed the lawsuit, said she anticipated a fierce battle.
"I have no doubt that passions will be running high on this," Bonauto said. "But in the end, no matter what you think about the court's decision, it's always wrong to change the constitution to write discrimination into it. As the court noted, civil unions do not provide the same protections as marriage does and that's what families need."
While the legislative and legal battles are likely to continue for months and years to come, the advisory opinion gave at least one gay couple the peace of mind they needed to put down a nonrefundable deposit for a wedding -- a step which they previously were not confident enough to take.
"We're going to have to start looking for a band," said Ed Balmelli, one of the plaintiffs in the case who sued with his partner, Michael Horgan.
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In other news... I'm totally hooked on The L Word!
I can't stop laughing at Tammy Lynn's character... "I don't want a serious relationship... I just want to be with you all the time...!"
Marina's too hot for Jenny though. I can't stand her... she's so... UGH.
ANYWAY, yes, I'm a loser. I don't care.