November 19, 2003
WASHINGTON — A Massachusetts high court ruling Tuesday in favor of gay
marriage is a big step ahead of US politicians, and indeed most of
the 50 US states, that might push it into the spotlight of the 2004
The Supreme Court of Massachusetts issued a landmark ruling
arguing that barring gay couples from the benefits of civil
marriage "violates the Massachusetts Constitution."
The US debate over whether homosexuals should be allowed to
marry or form civil unions, and enjoy the legal benefits of married
people, has been a tangled and slow-moving one, fraught with thorny
legal, religious, social and "labelling" questions.
The Massachusetts' court move was a bold one in that, to date,
no US state has approved something called marriage between persons
of the same sex.
While many US homosexuals have lobbied to secure legal rights
they generally do not have as half of a couple -- such as
inheriting a home, making health care decisions and even tax
benefits – many US conservatives argue that marriage can only be a
union between a man and a woman.
Only one US state, Vermont, has legalized civil unions between
homosexuals. The 2000 legislation was signed by then-governor
Howard Dean, now a leading contender for the Democratic
presidential nomination and would-be rival of President George W. Bush.
Vermont with its law avoided the "labelling" thicket – granting
gays who form a civil union many of the legal rights of married
couples without actually calling the union a marriage.
And Dean's role in its passage, plus the Massachusetts ruling,
could help thrust the civil union/gay marriage issue further to the
forefront in the 2004 campaign for the White House.
Under Vermont law, to avoid relatives forming a union just to
secure legal benefits, civil union status is available only to two
persons of the same sex and not related to one another. Parties to
civil union must be at least 18 and may not already be party to
another civil union or marriage.
Yet a federal US Defense of Marriage Act in effect since 1996
has said no state is required to recognize the law of another US
state with respect to a same-sex "marriage." It also defines the
words "marriage" and "spouse" for purposes of federal law.
Some gay rights advocates however specifically want to gain
their rights through something called "marriage." They maintain
that something named differently might be valued differently or end
up limiting their couples-related legal rights.
The state of New Jersey is considering a suit filed by the group
Lambda Legal in June 2002 "on behalf of seven lesbian and gay
couples seeking full marriage rights," the group's website says.
"Beyond legal rights and responsibilities, marriage is an
enormous part of day-to-day life and is the most common way that
couples prove their enduring commitment to each other," the rights
Among other prominent court battles over the issue, Hawaiian
couples lost an eight-year court battle that ended in December 1999
with a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling. It unanimously upheld the right
of the legislature to restrict the eligibility of couples seeking
In July, the US Supreme Court Thursday struck down a Texas state
law banning private consensual sex between same sex adults. Most US
states had anti-sodomy laws until the 1960s. –Sapa-AFP
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