Opponents of same-sex “marriage” in Massachusetts are trying to counter last week’s landmark court ruling by persuading the legislature to enact a civil-union law instead, and by delaying the court’s decision from taking effect for long enough to amend the state constitution.
Homosexual rights groups, however, say they will work “hour by hour” to see that Massachusetts marriage licenses are issued to same-sex couples in May.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its decision that homosexual couples have a constitutional right to “marry.” The court stayed its ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health for 180 days to allow for a legislative response.
Traditional-values groups decried the ruling as an assault on the nation’s bedrock social institution, the traditional family, and vowed to do everything they can to block it.
One opposition strategy being discussed is for the Massachusetts legislature to do what Vermont’s did in 2000 when faced with a court ruling on same-sex unions: craft a bill to legally provide the benefits, protections and rights of marriage to homosexual couples, without using the word “marriage.”
The Goodridge ruling calls for “basic fairness” for homosexual couples but is ambiguous about how the state should accomplish that mandate, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly said last week.
The legislature, not the courts, should be deciding how to make profound social changes, Mr. Reilly said Friday. The legislature, therefore, should take the “strong opportunity” of the next 180 days to produce a law offering marriagelike protections to homosexual couples, he said.
Another opposition strategy is to defer the matter until Massachusetts voters have a chance to speak.
Massachusetts was founded on the principle of self-government, so the high court would be “most consistent” with state history if it agreed to stay its ruling until the people can vote on the issue, said Wendy Baker of the Marriage Law Project at Columbus School of Law at Catholic University of America.
Traditional-values groups in Massachusetts already have gathered signatures and requested a constitutional convention. Lawmakers are set to meet on the matter on Feb. 11. The earliest time a public vote could be scheduled would be November 2006.
However, lawyer Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), who represented Julie and Hillary Goodridge, said Friday the plaintiffs’ legal victory will not be muddied or denied.
“The Supreme Judicial Court was clear that it is unconstitutional to deny these couples the right to marry, and it’s mean to play politics with people’s lives,” Miss Bonauto said. “It’s basic common sense that nothing short of or different from marriage can provide the same ‘protections, benefits and obligations’ of marriage.”
Miss Bonauto added that Mr. Reilly, whom she faced in court, was “just wrong” when he said “the legislature is the only proper place to sort out people’s civil rights.”
The attorney general “pressed that argument in court and lost,” she said.