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After months of deliberation Massachusetts’ highest court ruled Nov. 18 that under the state constitution same-sex couples are legally entitled to marry. Their historic decision made Massachusetts the first state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage and dealt a blow to those who have lobbied to uphold marriage as the union of man and woman.
Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley, who has publicly defended marriage, released a statement in response to the ruling in which he decried the Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) logic in allowing individuals of the same sex to marry. He called upon the Legislature to have the “courage and common sense” to rectify the situation.
"It is alarming that the Supreme Judicial Court in this ruling has cast aside what has been not only that interpretation of the Massachusetts Constitution but the very definition of marriage held by peoples for thousands of years," the archbishop said in his statement.
Governor Mitt Romney also expressed his disappointment with the decision and voiced his support for an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
"I disagree with the Supreme Judicial Court," the governor said in a statement. "Of course, we must provide basic civil rights and appropriate benefits to nontraditional couples, but marriage is a special institution that should be reserved for a man and a woman."
In its long-awaited decision in the case involving seven same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses, the SJC ruled that the commonwealth cannot restrict marriage to the union of one man and one woman. The court stopped short of issuing marriage licenses to the 14 plaintiffs and instead gave the Legislature 180 days to “take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of this opinion” in terms of revising the law.
In the plurality opinion written by Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, the court states that, “For those who choose to marry and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial and social benefits.”
The question before the court, the ruling states, was whether under the Massachusetts Constitution the state could deny those benefits to same-sex couples.
"We conclude that it may not," the justices wrote in their decision. "The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens."
Arguments from the state, “failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples,” the ruling said.
The unavailability of civil marriage leaves same-sex couples “arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of the community’s most rewarding and cherished institutions,” the plurality wrote. “That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under law.”
At a Statehouse press conference convening many of the key players involved in supporting traditional marriage, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), the public policy voice of the Catholic dioceses of Massachusetts, called the SJC’s decision “radical” and “devastating.”
Daniel Avila, associate director for policy and research for the MCC, citing a number of sections of the decision, rejected the court’s conclusion that denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples constitutes a form of discrimination.
"The court's majority accuses those who believe that marriage should be defined as the union between one man and one woman of wanting to harm gays and lesbians," Avila said. "The majority opinion says that 'history must yield to a more fully developed understanding of the invidious quality of this discrimination.' The dictionary defines invidiousness as the desire to do harm ... Those are harsh accusations."
Avila went on to state that the court’s ruling has ramifications beyond the issue of marriage, affecting existing anti-discrimination laws and employment policies of religious institutions such as hospitals, schools and charities.
In its ruling, “This court has acted without any public consensus to back its belief that we who oppose their opinions are bigots,” he said. The public needs “to be given a chance to respond.”
A vote on the Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment (MA and PA) at the constitutional convention scheduled for Nov. 12 of this year was delayed until Feb. 11, 2004. The next opportunity for a marriage protection amendment to make the ballot for a popular vote is November 2006.
"The constitutional convention ignored the will of the voters," said Rep. Jeffrey Perry, R-Sandwich, at the press conference, saying that the legislators recessed because they did not have the "courage" to take a vote.
The only good coming out of the court’s decision, said Rep. Perry, is the 180 day time frame in which the Legislature must act.
"The time has come for legislators to stand up and be accountable," he continued. "The day of avoiding the issue is over."
According to the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), an organization dedicated to protecting the family, 37 states have reaffirmed the traditional definition of marriage. MFI helped draft the marriage protection amendment.
Rep. Philip Travis (D-Rehoboth), who sponsors MA and PA, spoke at the press conference and called the SJC’s decision “demoralizing in every sense of the word.”
Their decision “flies in the face of what we know in Massachusetts as marriage,” Rep. Travis said.
By ruling that same-sex individuals cannot constitutionally be denied marriage licenses, the SJC has taken “civil unions out of the picture,” said Rep. Travis. The decision forces them to deal simply with the issue of marriage, he continued. “The court rendered Massachusetts the center for [same-sex] marriage.”
Rep. Travis was unsure how his fellow legislators would react to the ruling, but said that he was in “no quick hurry” to comply with the mandate the court had given the Legislature.
Rep. Vinny DeMacedo, R-Plymouth, who co-sponsors MA and PA, said that “the court overstepped its bounds,” in making its decision.
Dr. Ron Crews, president of MFI, agreed calling the court’s decision “judicial activism.”
The SJC is “trying to make law ... trying to dictate to the Legislature what they should do in making law for this state,” said Dr. Crews.
Speaking to The Pilot after the news conference, Avila explained that if the Legislature decides not to take any action within the 180 day time period, the SJC would hand authority to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples directly to local courts.
He also stated that if a marriage amendment were to make it to the ballot in 2006 and citizens were to vote in favor of it, the court’s decision would be reversed. Avila also predicted that the SJC decision could leave the federal constitution vulnerable to the same interpretation.
The same-sex marriage case, Goodridge vs. the Department of Public Health, began in 2001 when seven homosexual couples were denied marriage licenses, leading them to sue the state. In 2002, a Suffolk Superior Court judge dismissed the case, ruling that Massachusetts law does not state that homosexuals have the right to marry. After the ruling, the seven couples took their case to the SJC, which heard testimony in March 2003.