- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 16, 2004

Beginning tomorrow, Massachusetts will begin issuing the nation’s first legal marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday declined to hear an appeal from traditional marriage groups.

The licenses are seen as a new era in the fight for equal rights, say homosexual-rights groups, who have planned receptions, parties and celebrations in honor of newly “married” couples, their friends and allies.

The “marriages” are the result of a three-year court battle in Massachusetts.

In the spring of 2001, Hillary and Julie Goodridge and six other homosexual couples sued the state when they were denied marriage licenses because they were of the same sex. A lower court ruled against the couples, but on Nov. 18, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a 4-3 ruling, gave them the constitutional right to marry.

The seven couples in the so-called Goodridge decision said they plan to “marry” as early as tomorrow.

Conservative groups, who believe the court-ordered redefinition of marriage is a social calamity for this nation, have meetings, conferences and speeches planned in Boston and the District and elsewhere, but no confrontations are planned.

“I remind all Catholics that our sadness at what has happened should not lead us into anger against or vilification of any group of people, especially our homosexual brothers and sisters,” Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley said last week.

“The creation of a right to same-sex marriage in the end will not strengthen the institution of marriage within our society but only weaken it, as marriage becomes only one lifestyle choice among many others,” the archbishop said.

Conservative legal groups, representing Massachusetts lawmakers and a Catholic activist, last week failed to get an emergency stay from two federal courts. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, while refusing to issue a stay, agreed to hear the case June 7.

The legal groups, led by Liberty Counsel of Orlando, Fla., immediately filed an emergency appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. That appeal was denied by the high court Friday.

A multitude of homosexual couples plan to go to city and town halls tomorrow across the state to apply for marriage licenses. Some of the couples will ask a judge for a waiver of the usual three-day waiting period and exchange vows the same day, in the first state-sanctioned homosexual “weddings” in America.

Some homosexuals and their allies see tomorrow as a day of public vindication and private joy.

“I hope what people see is that there are very committed couples from all walks of life in the commonwealth of Massachusetts who, in some cases, have been waiting decades to take legal responsibility for one another,” said lawyer Mary Bonauto, of Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, who represented the couples before the state high court. “This has always been about real people and real families.”

To those who have worked to overturn or delay the court’s edict, the day will mark the end of one battle and the start of the next.

“Massachusetts will be forever known as the birthplace of homosexual marriage. From the Bay State to the Gay State,” said Democratic state Rep. Philip Travis, who sponsored a state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex “marriages.”

“I had hoped that people of common sense, who understand what nature and marriage is all about, would prevent it from happening,” he said.

Emboldened by the Goodridge ruling, homosexual activists and their allies pushed same-sex “marriage” onto the national agenda. On Feb. 12, San Francisco officials said they would begin “marrying” same-sex couples. That inspired similar “freedom to marry” acts — and lawsuits to stop them — in New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Florida and Washington state.

It also spurred talk of a federal marriage amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman in the U.S. Constitution. President Bush has endorsed the idea, and it has significant bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

To marry in Massachusetts now, homosexual couples will need to submit a marriage application, along with a blood test and fee to any of the 351 city or town clerk’s offices.

The city of Cambridge, located just outside Boston, said it would accept applications after midnight tonight, but other offices planned to open at their regular hours.

A 1913 state law says nonresidents may not wed in Massachusetts if their marriage would be void in their home states. Citing that law, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has instructed clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples from other states who do not plan to move to Massachusetts.

Clerks in Provincetown and Worcester are among those who have said they will disregard Mr. Romney’s instructions and issue licenses to out-of-state couples. It is not clear whether criminal penalties would be imposed on officials who do not follow Mr. Romney’s instructions.

Once their application is filed, the couple must wait three days before “marrying,” although they may ask a court to waive the waiting period in order to marry sooner. The fee for such a waiver generally runs from $65 to $195.

Judges typically grant the waiver. It is expected couples will begin asking judges for waivers when courthouses open for business tomorrow morning.

Once the three-day waiting period has passed or a waiver is obtained, a couple must return to the city or town clerk to receive the license. The license is valid for 60 days. During that time, it must be solemnized by an official — such as a justice of the peace — or a member of the clergy or another person authorized to perform marriages.

The Unitarian Universalist Association is among the denominations willing to officiate at homosexual “marriages.”

When a marriage ceremony is complete, the officiator must sign the license and send it back to the city or town where the couple received it. The clerk registers the union with the state.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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