February 4, 2004
Same Sex Marriages Win Major Victory In Massachusetts
Boston – The Massachusetts high court ruled Wednesday that only full, equal marriage rights for gay couples – rather than civil unions – would be constitutional, erasing any doubts that the nation’s first same-sex marriages could take place in the state beginning in mid-May. The court issued the opinion in response to a request from the state Senate about whether Vermont-style civil unions, which convey the state benefits of marriage – but not the title – would meet constitutional muster. "The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal," the four justices who ruled in favor of gay marriage wrote in the advisory opinion.
A bill that would allow for civil unions, but falls short of marriage, makes for "unconstitutional, inferior, and discriminatory status for same-sex couples." The much-anticipated opinion sets the stage for next Wednesday’s constitutional convention, where the Legislature will consider an amendment that would legally define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Without the opinion, Senate President Robert Travaglini had said the vote would be delayed.
The soonest a constitutional amendment could end up on the ballot would be 2006, meaning that until then, the high court’s decision will be Massachusetts law no matter what is decided at the constitutional convention. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in November that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, and gave the Legislature six months to change state laws to make it happen. But almost immediately, the vague wording of the ruling left lawmakers – and advocates on both side of the issue – uncertain if Vermont-style civil unions would satisfy the court’s decision.
The state Senate asked for more guidance from the court and sought the advisory opinion, which was made public Wednesday morning when it was read into the Senate record. When it was issued in November, the 4-3 ruling set off a firestorm of protest across the country among politicians, religious leaders and others opposed to providing landmark rights for gay couples to marry. President Bush immediately denounced the decision and vowed to pursue legislation to protect the traditional definition of marriage. Church leaders in the heavily Roman Catholic state also pressed their parishioners to oppose efforts to allow gays to marry.
And legislators were prepared to vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would seek to make the court’s ruling moot by defining as marriage as a union between one man and one woman – thus expressly making same-sex marriages illegal in Massachusetts. What the case represented, both sides agree, was a significant new milestone in a year that has seen broad new recognitions of gay rights in America, Canada and abroad, including a June U.S. Supreme Court decision striking a Texas ban on gay sex. Legal experts, however, said that the long-awaited decision, while clearly stating that it is unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage, gave ambiguous instructions to the state Legislature. Lawmakers remained uncertain if civil unions went far enough to live up to the court’s ruling – or if actual marriages were required.
When a similar decision was issued in Vermont in 1999, the court told the Legislature that it could allow gay couples to marry or create a parallel institution that conveys all the state rights and benefits of marriage. The Legislature chose the second route, leading to the approval of civil unions in that state. The Massachusetts decision made no mention of an alternative solution, but instead pointed to a recent decision in Ontario, Canada, that changed the common law definition of marriage to include same-sex couples and led to the issuance of marriage licenses there. The state "has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples," the court wrote.
"Barred access to the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage, a person who enters into an intimate, exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of our community’s most rewarding and cherished institutions." The Massachusetts case began in 2001, when seven gay couples went to their city and town halls to obtain marriage licenses. All were denied, leading them to sue the state Department of Public Health, which administers the state’s marriage laws. A Suffolk Superior Court judge threw out the case in 2002, ruling that nothing in state law gives gay couples the right to marry. The couples immediately appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, which heard arguments in March.
The plaintiffs argued that barring them from marrying a partner of the same sex denied them access to an intrinsic human experience and violated basic constitutional rights.
Over the past decade, Massachusetts’ high court has expanded the legal parameters of family, ruling that same-sex couples can adopt children and devising child visitation right for a former partner of a lesbian. Massachusetts has one of the highest concentrations of gay households in the country with at 1.3 percent of the total number of coupled households, according to the 2000 census. In California, 1.4 percent of the coupled households are occupied by same-sex partners. Vermont and New York also registered at 1.3 percent, while in Washington, D.C., the rate is 5.1 percent.
The text of the Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion can be read at: http://www.boston.com/news/specials/gay_marriage/sjc_020404/
Reaction varies to Mass. Supreme Court gay marriage decision
by Matt Pitta, Associated Press Writer, Provincetown, Mass.
Residents of this wind-swept seaside town long known as a haven for gays praised Wednesday’s opinion by the state’s highest court, which cleared the way for the nation’s first same-sex marriages to take place in mid-May. "I think it means equality," said Brian J. McGuinness, owner of the Archer Inn. "I think that establishing anything but marriage for same-sex couples is discriminatory." McGuinness, who is gay but has no plans to get married himself, sees the legalization of gay marriage as a good business opportunity.
So does Provincetown tourism director Patricia Fitzpatrick, who said the town will market itself as a great place for gay couples to wed. "The town can now offer something gays and lesbians have waited their whole lives for," she said. The state Senate had asked the Supreme Judicial Court for an advisory opinion on whether a bill legalizing Vermont-style civil unions would satisfy the court’s November ruling, which stated it was unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay couples. The SJC responded that only full, equal marriage rights for gay couples would do. The Legislature has until May 17 to amend state law and legalize gay marriage. "It’s now crystal clear, if it wasn’t before, that the court meant marriage.
The word itself has power and benefits that are intangible," said Mark Carmien, owner of Pride & Joy, a gay-themed bookstore in Northampton, the college town in western Massachusetts that has a large gay and lesbian population. "It’s a very brave and historic decision." Carmien, who plans to marry his partner in June, has a sign in his shop counting down the days to May 17 – 103 as of Wednesday. The ruling drew a new flood of criticism from groups across the nation that oppose same-sex marriage, and who back an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage.
The Legislature is scheduled to debate such an amendment on Feb. 11, but the earliest it could take effect would be 2006. Even President Bush weighed in. His spokesman, Scott McClellan, said: "Activist judges continue to seek to redefine marriage by court order without regard for the will of the people."
But on a bright, chilly day in quiet, offseason Provincetown, residents and workers felt differently. "It’s just … part of a life, that somebody is there for you and can be recognized without prejudice," said Vernon Porter, 57, the secretary to the Board of Selectmen, who is gay. At Town Hall, clerk Douglas Johnstone said he’s had inquiries from people across the state interested in coming to Provincetown to get married. And he expects to see many more as May 17 approaches.
In Northampton, florist Malea Rhodes, who advertises her business as the only lesbian-owned shop in town, has already booked her first gay wedding. "I hope that more couples will feel comfortable coming to us," she said. "I’m extremely encouraged," said Lacey Johnston, who has been with her partner nearly 20 years. "I’m going to be very curious to see what happens in the Legislature next Wednesday. But it doesn’t appear that the Legislature has any outs."
February 6, 2004
State by state, barrier against gay unions grows
by Thomas Ginsberg, Inquirer Staff Writer
Although a Massachusetts court ruling Wednesday cleared the way for same-sex marriage there as soon as May, most states in recent years have been banning unions of gays and lesbians.
Ohio Gov. Bob Taft this week is expected to sign the country’s strictest "defense of marriage" law, making Ohio the 38th state formally to define marriage as between a woman and a man. "We won’t have to worry about our courts deferring to the novel and unorthodox definitions of marriage that we’re seeing in states such as Massachusetts," the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Bill Seitz, told CNN yesterday. The Ohio law, which also bars marital benefits for unmarried partners – homosexual or heterosexual – is the latest success for a campaign that began in 1996 when Congress passed its Defense of Marriage Act.
Since then, 37 state legislatures have jumped on the bandwagon with so-called DOMA laws. Pennsylvania and Delaware lawmakers approved bans on same-sex marriage in 1996. New Jersey lawmakers have not done so. "The [Massachusetts] court is bucking a trend," said Kristie Rutherford, director of state and local affairs for the conservative Family Research Council, based in Washington. "These states have anticipated what Massachusetts would do and… enacted these laws to preempt it."
The scope and restrictions of state laws on marriage could affect anybody who moves from one state to another. The federal government traditionally has stayed out of such regulation, letting states decide whether to recognize one another’s laws. To advocates of marriage rights and benefits for gays and lesbians, the state-by-state trend is really a "last-ditch political campaign by the right wing to… freeze as much discrimination in place before they lose the battle," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of the New York-based group Freedom to Marry.
Wolfson likened the Massachusetts court to the first state court in the 1940s that overturned a ban on interracial marriage, despite widespread public skepticism and opposition by a majority of states at the time. "Some state had to go first," Wolfson said. Despite the trend, gay, lesbian and civil rights activists have made some inroads. They have staved off DOMA laws in about a dozen states and won explicit guarantees of some marital benefits by private companies, some municipalities, including Philadelphia, and a few states, most recently New Jersey.
The Vermont legislature has approved same-sex civil unions, guaranteeing state-level marital benefits to same-sex couples. Hawaii and California have passed laws granting marital benefits to some same-sex couples. Possibly signaling a compromise legal path in recent years, some states have considered allowing same-sex couples to register civil unions with marital benefits, even while banning them from getting married. California, for example, has both a "defense of marriage" law restricting marriage to a man and a woman, and a domestic-partnership law providing almost all state-level spousal rights to unmarried couples.
But the Massachusetts ruling rejecting that option as fundamentally unfair may now shift the entire debate to other states as well. "It may now force the issue," said Christi Goodman, who tracks marriage and family-law issues for the National Center for State Legislatures, a nonpartisan organization based in Colorado. "The legislatures may have to choose between [allowing] same-sex marriage or nothing. At least that’s what it will be in Massachusetts, and it might affect others the same way," Goodman said. Bills are pending in at least 16 states to ban or strengthen bans on same-sex marriage, according to Rutherford of the Family Research Council.
Four states have put the bans in their state constitutions, giving them more legal and political weight. On the federal level, both sides will focus on the battle over a constitutional amendment that would define marriage strictly as between a man and woman.
Contact staff writer Thomas Ginsberg at 215-854-4177 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 18, 2004
Gay Couples Marry in Massachusetts–Hundreds Tie Knot On Day One, but Questions Remain
by Alan Cooperman and Jonathan Finer, Washington Post Staff Writers
Cambridge, Mass. – More than 600 gay couples rushed to town halls and courthouses across Massachusetts on Monday and emerged to cheering crowds, live bands and rice-throwing relatives as the state became the first in the nation to allow same-sex marriages. Along with the party atmosphere came moments of somber reflection and deep emotion as the day marked two sorts of milestones: the leaping of a long-unthinkable barrier in American culture and the passage of a long-awaited turning point in many lives.
It was a day in which stereotypes were not only broken but also turned inside out, in which liberal lesbians expressed unstinting patriotism and conservative clergy members denounced the nation’s moral and political trajectory. The United States is now one of a handful of countries – along with Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada – to give some gay marriages the full protection of law.
The first to wed were Tanya McCloskey, 52, and Marcia Kadish, 56, of Malden, who said they had not sought the limelight but merely wanted to get the ceremony over with so they could enjoy the rest of the day. "I now pronounce that you are married under the laws of Massachusetts," Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury declared at 9:10 a.m. "You may seal this marriage with a kiss." The newlyweds embraced, and Kadish jumped up and down excitedly. "Thank you. Thank you," she said. Said McCloskey: "What a way to celebrate the freedoms we have in this country. This country is fabulous. I’m just so proud to be a citizen of the United States of America."
But while those on both sides of an issue that has divided the nation acknowledged the historic nature of the ceremonies, many questions about the future of same-sex marriage remain. A federal appeals court will consider a request to stop the marriages in June, and a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage could go to a referendum in November 2006. President Bush seized the occasion to renew his call for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. And a small but vocal number of protesters in Massachusetts gave notice that their fight against the state court decision that legalized same-sex marriage here was just beginning.
Across the state, gay couples lined up – some as early as Saturday – outside municipal clerks’ offices to register to marry. By evening, 227 couples had filed papers in Cambridge, 154 in Provincetown, 113 in Northampton, 99 in Boston, 65 in Worcester, 37 in Somerville, and scores more elsewhere.
Some also dashed to court to obtain waivers of the three-day waiting period for a marriage license. They then went to justices of the peace to get married. Provincetown and Worcester reported the most same-sex weddings – about 30 each – and Cambridge had 22. Across the state, cheering crowds serenaded and saluted gay couples leaving courthouses. Police estimated that nearly 10,000 revelers thronged Cambridge City Hall on Sunday night, when officials in tuxedos began taking application forms at midnight and the crowd, accompanied by a brass band, alternated between singing "God Bless America" and "Chapel of Love."
In Provincetown, a woman blew on a conch shell and a man in a dress burst into song after the town clerk announced the last couple of the day to file their intention to marry. In Boston, a string quartet played Monday morning for a crowd of a few hundred well-wishers on the plaza in front of City Hall. A hundred yards away, about 30 protesters called for the legislature to remove the Supreme Judicial Court judges who ruled in November that the state could not deny the legal protections of marriage to same-sex couples and gave the legislature 180 days to change state law to comply.
"Where is the president of the United States and where are our religious leaders?" Yehuda Levin, an Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn, asked the demonstrators. "There should be 1,000 religious leaders standing here today." Bush said the "sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges." His Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), opposes gay marriage but also opposes Bush’s proposal for an amendment barring such marriages. Campaigning on Monday night in Portland, Ore., Kerry was asked if he would attend a gay wedding of someone close to him or someone who worked for him. He replied, "I would never reduce the happiness of any two people in life who find whatever way it is that they privately believe makes them happy and fulfills their needs and rewards them as human beings." Kerry added that he has previously attended a "commitment ceremony when it was a commitment ceremony."
By the end of the day, all seven gay couples involved in the Massachusetts court case had tied the knot. The lead plaintiffs, Julie and Hillary Goodridge, were married by the Rev. William G. Sinkford, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, at the association’s headquarters in Boston. "Here comes the bride, all gay with pride," about 100 friends and family members sang as the Goodridges walked down the aisle in Giorgio Armani pantsuits, preceded by their 8-year-old daughter as flower girl.
"This isn’t anything anybody should be threatened by," Julie Goodridge told reporters after the ceremony. "We intend to uphold marriage as it exists today for the rest of our lives." The vast majority of couples who applied for marriage licenses are Massachusetts residents. But town clerks reported that some out-of-state couples also filed papers, despite warnings from Gov. Mitt Romney (R) that their licenses would be considered "null and void."
After several unsuccessful attempts to stay the court ruling in recent months, Romney sought to limit its scope by invoking a rarely enforced 1913 law – designed in part to preserve other states’ laws against interracial marriage – that bars couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their marriages would not be legal in their home states. Somerville City Clerk John Long, who along with colleagues in Worcester and Provincetown had publicly rejected Romney’s guidelines, said he took applications from at least six out-of-state couples.
Worcester’s clerk, David Rushford, said that 12 out-of-state couples had filed intentions to marry there, and that he had performed a wedding for a Connecticut couple. Edward Debonis and Vincent Maniscalco of New York City filed their intention to marry in Somerville. "We’ve had other opportunities, but we wanted to be part of what we consider to be civil rights history," Debonis said. It is not yet clear how such marriages will be handled when the couples return to their home states.
New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer (D) said in March that while gay marriage is illegal in New York, the state will recognize such marriages granted elsewhere. But Gov. George E. Pataki (R) said last week that he agrees with Romney that it is illegal for out-of-state gay couples to wed in Massachusetts.
On Monday, Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch (D) said that state law "suggests that Rhode Island would recognize any marriage validly performed in another state unless doing so would run contrary to the strong public policy of this state." His Connecticut counterpart, Richard Blumenthal (D), would not take a position. "An answer would require me to make law, not interpret it," he said.
The controversy over same-sex marriage began in 1993, when a Hawaiian court deemed a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. In response, at least 38 states, including Hawaii, have outlawed such unions, and in 1996 Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act. In 1999, Vermont became the only state to offer civil unions – which confer similar benefits to marriage – to same-sex couples. After the Massachusetts court decision in November, officials in San Francisco; New Paltz, N.Y.; and Multnomah County, Ore., granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Each of those processes has since been interrupted.
Staff writer Philip Kennicott in Provincetown, Mass., contributed to this report.
May 19, 2004
Gay marriage story drew headlines worldwide—dramatic cultural milestone generates headlines and commentary everywhere from Rio to Prague.
by Mark Jurkowitz, Globe Staff
The first day of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts proved to be a huge news event in this country, with the story leading all three network newscasts and landing on front pages yesterday from Tulsa, Okla., to Toledo, Ohio. And although interest was milder overseas, the dramatic cultural milestone generated headlines and commentary everywhere from Rio de Janeiro to Prague.
"This is what we call an ‘A story’ day," said Paul Sparrow, the director of media for the Washington-based Newseum, which posts the front pages of about 300 US and foreign papers online every day. The news got dramatic play even in parts of this country that are culturally conservative, he added, because "they all know this is a big story that has electoral implications." On a day when a suicide bomber killed the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, the same-sex marriage story kicked off Monday evening’s newscasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC. ABC’s "Nightline" examined the political and social implications of gay marriage as part of a Monday night program dubbed "Culture Wars: Religion and Politics in a Divided Nation."
The Washington Post and The New York Times made the Massachusetts same-sex ceremonies their most prominent Page 1 stories yesterday. (While The Boston Globe dedicated most of its front page to the news, the Boston Herald did not mention the subject on its front page.) Throughout the United States, below headlines such as "Gay pairs unite, legally" and "Gays, lesbians say, ‘I do!,’" papers mixed accounts of elated same-sex couples exchanging vows with quotes from opponents and a sense of the public’s divided sentiments on the issue. The Cincinnati Enquirer ran the headline "Same-sex weddings make history" under a somewhat cryptic label that read "For better or for worse."
Around the globe, news of the events in Massachusetts generated curiosity if not intense media interest. In Russia, where male homosexuality was a crime punishable by up to eight years in prison until 1993, reaction was largely subdued and occasionally sympathetic. Mainstream media published straightforward reports about the marriages, commenting not so much on the issue itself as on the scope of public reaction in the United States.
"Remarkably, some of the participants in the [gay-marriage supporters’] rally were children," the daily Novye Izvestia reported. The state run news agency RIA Novosti quoted an unidentified Russian Orthodox priest in Massachusetts as saying that same-sex marriage was "so un-Christian" that the church decided to "ignore" the issue.
The weddings in Massachusetts made headlines in Brazil, where the social reality is truer to conservative Christian values than the anything-goes image exported by colorful Carnival festivities or the country’s steamy soap operas. National newspapers and television newscasts reported the story, printing and broadcasting images of gay and lesbian couples getting married across the state.
In Europe, where homosexuality is more broadly accepted than in the United States, the reaction was largely positive, albeit restrained. Large majorities in many European countries favor same-sex marriage, although the issue of gay couples adopting children is more controversial in some places. In the Czech Republic, where the government plans to introduce legislation allowing same-sex partnerships today, supporters of the move seized on the marriages in Massachusetts to press the issue.
"The first American state that has removed the mindless discrimination against its citizens for their basic sexual orientation is Massachusetts," Tereza Nosalkova wrote in a front-page commentary yesterday in the Czech daily newspaper Lidove Noviny. In Britain, where a Civil Partnership Bill was introduced to Parliament without surprise or controversy this spring, the daily newspaper The Independent asked in an editorial yesterday, "Should not Britain be next?"
In the United States, coverage of the issue was inextricably tied to election-year politics. A newly released Newsweek poll found the nation is quite divided, with 28 percent favoring full marriage rights for same-sex couples, 23 percent favoring civil unions, and 43 percent opposing any form of legal recognition. On Monday, two influential online political tip sheets pointed out the political hazards that gay marriage presents for both candidates. The Note, distributed by ABC News, declared that since President Bush announced his support in February for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, "the president hasn’t pushed the issue," and added, "John Kerry would just like this issue to go away."
The Hotline, published by the National Journal, observed that "it’s no accident that neither campaign wants to be part of the [Massachusetts] story today. Polls show more and more support for some legal recognition, but support is split between all-out marriage and civil unions." With neither candidate eager to join the debate, the weddings did not trigger an immediate "culture war" debate among editorial writers or pundits. The CNN "Crossfire" crew sparred over the topic Monday, but not before discussing the Iraqi prisoner scandal, potential running mates for Kerry, and other political matters. Bill O’Reilly tackled the matter on Fox News Channel but waited until the third segment of his show to do so.
Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers magazine, monitored conservative-dominated talk radio’s reaction to same-sex weddings and said the topic did not burn up the phone lines. Gay marriage "is still not a big emotional topic," he said. "It’s not a hot, heated topic. It’s not life and death; it doesn’t affect the economy. . . . I find a lot of conservatives saying, ‘I can’t get too excited about this; my brother’s gay.’ It crosses a lot of lines."
The last word on Monday night belonged to TV’s late-night talkers. Jay Leno wondered aloud, "Does that best man invite both guys to the bachelor party?" And David Letterman told his audience, "I got a very disturbing phone call from Massachusetts earlier this morning – my uncle Earl is a bride."
Globe staff member John Donnelly and Globe correspondents Anna Dolgov, Brian Whitmore, Sarah Liebowitz, and Paulo Prada contributed to this report.