Press

Massachusetts High Court Same-Sex Marriage Decision is an ‘Exhilarating Victory in the Struggle for Equal Rights’

Date: 
November 18, 2003

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Vows to Continue Assisting State and Local Activists

Right Wing Anti-Gay Assault Expected to be "Vicious, Demonizing, and Dehumanizing"

MEDIA CONTACT:
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
media@theTaskForce.org
646.358.1465

Washington, DC, November 18, 2003. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force called today's decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) - finding that denying civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples violated the state constitution and directing the state legislature to craft a remedy - "an exhilarating victory, an important battle won in the struggle for equal rights."

Following is a Statement by National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman:

"The court rightfully recognized that denying gay and lesbian couples equal rights to enter into civil marriage violates the Massachusetts constitution. The decision is cause for celebration for those it affects directly and for all fair-minded citizens. It is a critical step in the right direction. On behalf of our national community, we thank Mary Bonauto and her colleagues at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) for their extraordinary perseverance and work on this case.

At the same time, we now face many challenges in seeing the decision implemented. While recognizing that denying same sex couples equal rights to enter into civil marriage violates the state constitution, the court stopped short of directly ordering the logical remedy: the immediate right to civil marriage. Instead, the court stayed its decision for 180 days to 'permit the (state) legislature to take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of this decision.' Our community and the people of Massachusetts now face a bruising political struggle. We have to make sure that the 'appropriate action' taken by the state legislature is to ensure the freedom to marry for all its citizens, not some attempt to create some kind of separate and fundamentally unequal system. We've learned from painful experience that court victories are incomplete - and sometimes hollow - until they are translated into statute and fairly implemented.

While we rejoice in this important advance, the Task Force will do everything possible to help our local partners - including the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts and GLAD - withstand the vicious, demonizing, and dehumanizing assault that is likely to be undertaken by anti-gay extremists. The Task Force will also be fighting on a national level to confront the same assault. As confirmed by the Washington Post on October 27, 'Republican lawmakers and conservative activists are making plans to turn gay marriage into a major issue in next year's elections, with some Christian groups saying that banning same-sex unions is a higher immediate priority for them than restricting abortion.'

First and foremost, everyone in the community, no matter where he or she is on marriage - for, against, don't know or don't care - must unite to fight the backlash. Second, because we cannot win this by ourselves, each of us must speak openly and directly to our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers. As the national atmosphere becomes poisoned with endless lies, defamations and distortions, each of us needs to say to those in our lives, 'They are talking about me and I need you to take a stand for me.' It will take all of us working together, and more, to prevail."

Bitter Fight Anticipated in Legislature
Right Wing Expected to Funnel Millions to Cause

Even with this clear ruling from the state's highest court and significant public support for same-sex marriage, the fight in the state legislature to extend equal marriage rights is expected to be extremely bitter. To this point, the Massachusetts House of Representatives has been reluctant to extend even limited domestic partner benefits to state workers, and there have been previous attempts to have the legislature initiate the process of amending the state constitution to outlaw same sex marriage.

As has been the case in other states, the political and religious right from across the nation are also expected to funnel millions of dollars to prevent the legislature from implementing equal rights for same-sex couples, as directed by the court. In California in 2000 for example, right-wing Christian organizations funneled millions of dollars to support the successful campaign to preclude the recognition of marriages between persons of the same sex. More recently, the religious right and the political right have joined forces in an unprecedented coordinated campaign to oppose same-sex marriage and the legal recognition of any relationship outside of "one man - one woman" marriage, such as domestic partnerships and civil unions. A prime goal of this effort is amending the U.S. Constitution to permanently define marriage in this country as being between one man and one woman and to prohibit any court from interpreting any law or state constitution to extend any benefits associated with marriage to same-sex couples. Rev. Jerry Falwell recently claimed that the coordinated efforts had resulted in one million signatures on petitions in support of the constitutional amendment. (At last count, the amendment had 96 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. The proposed amendment must be approved by two-thirds of the House and the Senate and then ratified by three-fourths of the states.)

The case, Goodridge, et al v. Department of Public Health, centered on seven plaintiff couples who sought the right to civil marriage under the Massachusetts Constitution. The suit argued that the right to marry the person of one's choice is protected under the state constitution, and further, that the state cannot justify excluding gay and lesbian couples and their families from the institution of marriage and the hundreds of protections it provides. The seven plaintiff couples have been in committed relationships between six and 32 years. Four of the couples are raising children. Each couple was denied a marriage license by local officials, which led to the filing of the suit in April, 2001. [For more information on issues faced by same-sex families, see the Task Force

For more information on GLAD, go to their web site at http://www.glad.org. For more information on the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts: http://www.ftmmass.org/

reports_and_research/family_policy