Friday, September 30, 2005

Connecticut’s civil union law goes into effect today while a Massachusetts lawsuit that could have national ramifications goes before that state’s highest court next week.

The Massachusetts lawsuit involves a 1913 marriage-residency law. If it is overturned, it could mean that same-sex couples from anywhere in the country would be allowed to “marry” in Massachusetts.

Legal experts agree that if this happened, many couples would sue for recognition of their “marriages” in their home states. This would spark multiple lawsuits, especially in states such as Maryland, which don’t have a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) outlawing same-sex “marriage.”

In Connecticut today, only a small number of town clerks’ offices are scheduled to be open, but they are ready to issue civil union licenses to same-sex couples.

“We have the proper documentation,” said Sandra Hutton, president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association. “We won’t have any problems at all.”

Connecticut this year became the second U.S. state to allow civil unions when its lawmakers approved the measure.

The nation’s first civil union law, written by Vermont lawmakers under court order, went into effect in 2000.

Civil unions give same-sex couples many legal protections of marriage, including spousal health care benefits. However, these benefits are usually not portable — while Connecticut and Vermont may recognize each other’s civil unions, most states will not.

In Massachusetts, the lawsuit over the 1913 marriage-residency law is scheduled to go before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday.

The 1913 law says nonresident couples cannot marry in Massachusetts if they are “prohibited” from marrying in their home states.

If the Massachusetts high court finds the 1913 law is unlawful or being applied in a discriminatory fashion, it might issue a ruling allowing nonresident homosexual couples to “marry” in the state.

The same court rocked the nation in November 2003 when it found a constitutional right to same-sex “marriage” in its landmark Goodridge decision.

In court papers, Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly argued that the 1913 law is legal and applied fairly. The state has an interest in disallowing couples to marry when their marriages would be “unrecognized and unregulated” in their home states, he said.

However, lawyers with the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), say the 1913 law is illegal under the Goodridge decision.

“Goodridge said that Massachusetts may not discriminate against same-sex couples who want to marry,” GLAD lawyer Michele Granda said. “Goodridge did not say that Massachusetts can discriminate if another state discriminates.”

GLAD represents eight same-sex couples, including Sandra and Roberta Cote-Whitacre, who don’t live in Massachusetts but want to be “married” there. A group of 13 Massachusetts town clerks who believe the 1913 law is discriminatory filed a companion lawsuit.

In August 2004, Suffolk Superior Court Judge Carol Ball rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments, saying they “failed to show” that the state acted unlawfully.

To date, 38 states have passed a DOMA. Voters in 18 states also have amended their constitutions to ban same-sex “marriage.” Texas may become the 19th marriage-amendment state in November.

Marriage-amendment petition drives also are planned or are under way in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts.

Supporters of same-sex “marriage” are hoping that the Washington Supreme Court soon will make Washington the second state to allow same-sex “marriage.” Such a decision would have instant national ramifications, since Washington has no residency rules to block out-of-state homosexual couples from “marrying” there.

Other “freedom-to-marry” lawsuits are under way in California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.

In related news, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have allowed same-sex “marriage” in that state.

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