MA Supreme Court Requires Equal Marriage Rights for Homosexuals

Yesterday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the legislature’s proposed civil union bill would not be sufficient to satisfy its November decision that the state must afford homosexuals equal rights in marriage. “Separate is seldom, if ever, equal,” the court said in its 4-3 ruling yesterday. “For no rational reason the marriage laws of the Commonwealth discriminate against a defined class… The [civil unions] bill would have the effect of maintaining and fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits.”

The court’s November ruling will go into effect on May 17, making Massachusetts the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry, the Boston Globe reports. The Advocate reports that polls in Massachusetts have found that a majority of the state’s residents support the court’s November decision and oppose attempts to pass a constitutional amendment to circumvent the decision. Last week the state Democratic Party endorsed same-sex marriages, 365Gay.com reports. Nevertheless, political leaders opposing gay marriage plan to hold a Constitutional Convention on February 11 to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The court’s ruling will go into effect May 17 regardless because the earliest an amendment to the state constitution could go on the ballot is November 2006.

Activists on both sides of the issue acknowledge that the court ruling will push the debate to the forefront on the national level, the Boston Globe reports. Thirty-seven states have passed laws or constitutional amendments barring gay marriage and the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) allows states to not recognize same-sex marriages licensed by another state. It is expected that the DOMA law will be contested in court when Massachusetts same-sex partners move to other states and look to have their marriages recognized. “There are serious questions about the constitutionality of DOMA due to the ‘full faith and credit’ clause of the US Constitution which basically says states must give full faith and credit to the laws of other states. The question is whether this Supreme Court will put the law above politics,” FMF Legal Director Sharyn Tejani stated.

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365Gay.com 2/2/04; Boston Globe 2/5/04; The Advocate 2/5/04; MA Supreme Judicial Court Advisory Opinion for Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health 2/4/04

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