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Equality on Beacon Hill


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The debate in Massachusetts about gay marriage has really heated up at the State House in Boston. I thought I would create a thread where we could keep people everywhere abreast of the latest developments on this historic issue here in our tiny little state.

I came across this Editorial in the Boston Globe this morning and found it very informative.


Equality on Beacon Hill

Boston Globe Editorial


THERE IS a plain and powerful reason that legislators at the constitutional convention had such difficulty reaching compromise on an amendment that would ban gay marriage: Civil rights cannot be compromised.

Late last night, having rejected three proposed amendments, the legislators wearily took up a fourth, but it could not escape the same shoals. In it, opponents of gay marriage surrendered on substantive issues, guaranteeing to gay couples civil unions that "shall provide entirely the same benefits, protections, rights, and responsibilities that are afforded to couples married under Massachusetts law."

But if there is no reason to deny benefits or responsibilities, why deny the word "marriage?" The text said the amendment was designed "to protect the unique relationship of marriage," but in all the debate no one made clear what threat marriage needs to be protected from.

Parsing language so one group of citizens is allowed the benefits and privileges of marriage -- defined as a union between one man and one woman -- while another group is told to live with something less cannot be done in the name of equality. Almost isn't equal.

That is why Senator Robert Havern's question rang so clear in an attentive hall. "How do you compromise someone's rights?" he asked.

That is why so many legislators applauded Representative Byron Rushing's stirring history lesson yesterday as he urged his colleagues to remember that Massachusetts was the first state to have no slaves.

"Is my family so different from any of yours?" asked Senator Jarrett Barrios, who has adopted two children with his gay partner. He noted that states with narrowly defined marriage statutes have denied gays and lesbians benefits and the right to visit partners in the hospital.

Representative Elizabeth Malia said that if she died, her partner of 30 years might lose their house because she is not legally a spouse. "Do not carve in stone a status that is less than equal," she said. The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the Constitution as written provides full equality. It needs no parsing.

The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the Constitution as written provides full equality. It needs no parsing. The Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that the Constitution as written provides full equality. It needs no parsing.

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Catholic newspaper backs gay marriage decision

BOSTON - A lay Catholic newsweekly endorsed the Massachusetts high court decision on gay marriage on its editorial page, calling it "a beneficial step along the path of human understanding and human rights."

The National Catholic Reporter, a well-known liberal publication often at odds with Church leaders, said that civil, state-sanctioned gay marriages would have no effect on church marriages or other religious traditions.

"It should be noted here that advocating for civil marriage for gays and lesbians is not meant to seem a cavalier defiance of church teaching," Thursday's editorial reads. "The two, for purposes of the current debate, should be separate."

Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley has been working to rally Catholics against the decision, which legalized gay marriage, and in favor of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

- By the Associated Press

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  • 4 months later...

Romney urges constitutional ban on same sex marriage, conservatives say current law adequate


Associated Press Writer - June 22, 2004

WASHINGTON - Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose state is the only one to recognize gay marriages, on Tuesday urged passage of a constitutional amendment banning same sex unions, even as the conservative who wrote a federal law denying recognition to such marriages said that law was sufficient.

Senate backers of the ban have predicted that gay marriages will spread like a "wildfire" across the country, eroding traditional marriage and voiding more restrictive laws in other states.

"It is not possible for the issue to remain solely a Massachusetts issue, it must now be confronted on a national basis," Romney said.

But in a preview of what is certain to be a politically charged debate, former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that the Constitution shouldn't be used as a vehicle for banning homosexual marriage. His remarks suggested that some of the strongest opposition to the proposed amendment may come from conservatives who abhor gay unions.

"We meddle with the Constitution to our own peril," Barr said. "If we begin to treat the Constitution as our personal sandbox, in which to build and destroy castles as we please, we risk diluting the grandeur of having a constitution in the first place."

In contrast, Romney, who has had to grapple with his state's first-in-the-nation court ruling giving gays the right to wed, said that at the heart of democracy is the principle that the people - not the courts - should decide such fundamental issues.

"The real threat to the states is not the constitutional amendment process, in which the states participate, but activist judges who disregard the law and redefine marriage in order to impose their will on the states, and on the whole nation," the governor said.

Barr, author of the Defense of Marriage Act denying federal recognition to gay unions, said in prepared testimony that conservatives should resist the temptation to use the Constitution to strangle states' rights. He said the Defense of Marriage Act was sufficient to deny recognition to homosexual marriage, and noted that it has yet to be successfully challenged.

Romney conceded that while "the sky's not going to fall" if gay unions are recognized, same sex marriage "may affect the development of children and thereby future society as a whole. Until we understand the implications for human development of a different definition of marriage, I believe we should preserve that which has endured over thousands of years."

The issue has flared since last November when the Massachusetts high court ruled that prohibiting gay couples from marrying violates the state's constitution. The Massachusetts legislature voted in March to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriages but to legalize civil unions.

In February, President Bush endorsed amending the U.S. Constitution to recognize marriages only between a man and a woman. With more than two years to go before state voters pass judgment on the proposed amendment, Romney and others have urged Congress to act on Bush's call.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has said senators will begin debate July 12 on an amendment proposed by Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo.

That amendment states that "marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."

Amendments to the Constitution require approval by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate and ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.

From The Cape Cod Times

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Federal appeals court denies attempt to block same-sex weddings

By Jennifer Peter, Associated Press | June 29, 2004

BOSTON --A federal appeals court has rejected an attempt by conservative groups and state lawmakers to block gay marriages, which began in Massachusetts in May.

The Florida-based Liberty Counsel, which launched the lawsuit, immediately said it would file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, continuing the groups' claim that the Massachusetts high court overstepped its bounds and violated the U.S. Constitution when it legalized gay marriage.

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the appropriate venue for contesting the outcome of a state court case was by changing the state constitution -- a lengthy process that is already underway in the state Legislature.

The appeals court also said the November 2003 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court did not violate the Guarantee Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which calls for a republican form of government in each state. The only thing that could trigger this clause, the court ruled, was if a state established a monarchy or took other action that clearly deviated from the republican form of government.

The lawsuit had claimed that the court violated the separation of powers and usurped the power of the Legislature when it ruled it was unconstitutional to bar gay couples from the institution of marriage.

"The court overstepped its bounds and essentially took this issue out of the hands of the people of the people of Massachusetts, where it belongs," said Erik Stanley, chief counsel for the Liberty Counsel. "They usurped the power of the people."

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Robert Largess, the vice president of the Catholic Action League, and 11 state lawmakers.

The federal appeals court had refused an earlier request by the groups to halt implementation of the SJC ruling before the first licenses were issued on May 17.

The rejection was the latest in a series of defeats for conservative groups in both state and federal courts.

A state constitutional ban on gay marriage, which would simultaneously legalize civil unions, was approved by the Legislature earlier this year but must receive a second round of legislative approval before going before the voters on the November 2006 ballot.

From The Boston Globe

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  • 2 weeks later...

Gays seek to overturn 1913 Mass. marriage law

By Jay Lindsay, Associated Press | July 14, 2004

A 1913 Massachusetts law that is being used to prevent out-of-state gays from getting married here is discriminatory and should be struck down, a lawyer for eight same-sex couples told a judge yesterday.

Lawyer Michele Granda asked Superior Court Judge Carol Ball to block the state from enforcing the 91-year-old law, which prohibits marriages that would be illegal in a couple's home state. She said the statute violates both the US Constitution and Massachusetts law.

''We're asking the court to tear down the fence of discrimination that's been erected around [the state's] borders," she said.

But a lawyer for the state argued that the law protects other states' right to define marriage as they see fit, a principle repeatedly cited by the Massachusetts high court in its landmark November ruling legalizing gay marriage.

Assistant Attorney General Peter Sacks said that ruling defines marriage as ''two willing spouses and an approving state." Since no other state allows gay marriages, that standard is not met anywhere but Massachusetts, he said.

Judge Ball did not indicate when she would rule on the request to block enforcement of the 1913 law. She gave plaintiffs until July 23 to file additional briefs, and the state until Aug. 2 to respond. However, Ball did say in court, ''From what I've read so far, it appears the state is applying the law in a procedurally nondiscriminatory manner."

Republican Governor Mitt Romney, a gay marriage opponent, has invoked the law to bar gay couples from other states from getting married in Massachusetts. When gay marriages began on May 17, some municipal clerks openly defied Romney and issued licenses to anyone who applied. But Massachusetts's attorney general, acting on Romney's instructions, ordered them to stop.

Legal specialists have said the law was passed to prevent interracial couples from getting married. But the attorney general has said there is no evidence that lawmakers were motivated by race in passing the law. The law was ignored for decades before the high court cleared the way for the nation's first state-sanctioned gay weddings to begin this spring, Granda said. ''The Commonwealth is clearly over-enforcing the statute," she said.

Sacks said enforcement of the statute has increased, ''because there's much more reason than there was before to expect violations."

Granda said the state is treating different groups of people unequally by enforcing the law.

But Sacks said the state's enforcement of the law respects other states' rights. ''People can come here from out of state to get married, if they're coming from a jurisdiction where it's recognized. The potential for friction with other states can't be minimized."

The eight couples who filed the lawsuit are all from states near Massachusetts -- two from Connecticut, two from Rhode Island, and one each from New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, and New York. Five of the couples were married in Massachusetts by clerks who ignored the 1913 law, while the three others were turned away.

From The Boston Globe

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