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Waiting at the altar: if the excitement of the Massachusetts marriage ruling didn't leave you light-headed, waiting another 138 days (from the date of this magazine might.

"There's only one way to read this, from my perspective," says Mary Bonauto the day after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rifled that it was unconstitutional to exclude gay couples from marriage. "We won the right to marry."

Bonauto, an attorney at the Boston organization Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, was lead counsel in the case, so she could be excused for having a biased perspective. But most advocates for same-sex marriage say no excuse is necessary.

"There's no wiggle room here," says David Buckel, director of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund's Marriage Project and the lead attorney on a similar marriage case in New Jersey. "There's no ambiguity: Marriage is the remedy."

And Evan Wolfson, executive director of New York City-based Freedom to Marry, declares, "This is it, it's done--it's marriage!"

Marriage opponents, however, find less clarity in the November 18 decision. The sticking point, they say, is the 180 days justices gave the legislature to respond to the ruling. They say the six-month stay is the court's way of providing lawmakers enough leeway to pass nonmarriage legislation--such as civil unions or domestic-partnership packages--and still meet its mandate.

Republican governor Mitt Romney immediately declared his opposition to the court's ruling. "Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman," he said in a prepared statement. "I will support an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution to make that expressly clear. Of course, we must provide basic civil rights mid appropriate benefits to nontraditional couples, but marriage is a special institution that should be reserved for a man and a woman."

Romney has strong allies in the legislature, including the powerful speaker of the house, Democrat Tom Finneran, who also favors a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. A Finneran spokesman tells The Advocate, "We don't know what the legislative response will be at this time. I don't think anyone does."

Unlike in Alaska and Hawaii--where court rulings in favor of gay marriage were nullified by legislative action amending those states' constitutions--it would take at least three years for such an amendment to take effect in Massachusetts. It first must, be approved during two legislative sessions (one in 2004 and another in 2005), and it then would have to go before voters--in November 2006 at the earliest. A joint session of the legislature, called a constitutional convention, has been scheduled for February 11 to take up the proposed amendment.

Even some legal scholars supportive of same-sex marriage say the ruling could be interpreted to allow a solution that falls short of full marriage equality. "The coral said that those in same-sex rations have to be ensured the same privileges and responsibilities" as married heterosexuals, says Nathaniel Persily, a constitutional law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "It does not say it has to grant gay marriages per se."

Adds Shari Levitan of the Boston-based law firm Holland and Knight: "I personally don't read civil unions as passing muster trader this court ruling. But who's to say the legislature won't purposely thumb its nose at the court and pass something like a civil unions bill just to force a showdown?"

That's exactly what Greg Johnson, associate professor at Vermont Law School and cocounsel on the Alaska marriage case, worries opponents might try in order to drag out the legal battles until the constitutional amendment can pass. "This whole thing could be tied up in the courts for years and we won't see civil marriage or civil union or anything come out of it," he says.

Emphasizing that the Massachusetts ruling is "a bold, courageous opinion" that represents the strongest American court statement on gay marriage, Johnson points to Hawaii, Alaska, and even Vermont in cautioning, "There is always a difference between legal intent and political reality. I don't think any of us knows what will happen in 180 days."

But Bonauto is sure of one thing that will happen on May 16.

"If gay and lesbian people can't walk through the doors and get marriage licenses," she says, "we'll be back in court."

"I do"--do they?

What the Democratic presidential hopefuls are saying about the Massachusetts ruling


"I appreciate today's decision. As president, I would support giving gays and lesbians the legal rights that married couples get."


"While I personally do not support gay marriage, I recognize that different states will address this in different ways."


"While I support civil unions for same-sex couples, I also support the right for states to make decisions regarding the protections afforded same-sex couples. I do not support gay marriage."


"The effort by members of the Massachusetts state legislature to push a denial of marriage act is a divisive measure. There must be federal protection for civil rights issues."


"Although I am opposed to gay marriage, I have also long believed that states have the tight to adopt for themselves laws that allow same-sex unions."


"All of us--regardless of sexual orientation--stand to benefit from equal marriage rights because stable families strengthen oar communities and neighborhoods."


"I applaud the Massachusetts court for having the courage to make the correct finding that all human beings should have equal access to civil rights and institutions, including the right to marry."


The players

As Massachusetts goes where no state--or commonwealth--has gone before, these are people you can expect to be leading the debate



WHO: Openly gay state senator

POSITION: Vocal supporter of equal marriage rights

ROLE: Could champion marriage legislation in the senate

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "I will join many of my state house colleagues in supporting the court's ruling to ensure that Massachusetts guarantees liberty and justice for all, regardless of sexual orientation."


WHO: Openly gay Democratic U.S. representative from Massachusetts

POSITION: Strong proponent of equal civil marriage

ROLE: Vocal opponent of a proposed amendment to the U.S. constitution to ban gay marriage

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: The Massachusetts decision "will enhance the lives of probably thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of Massachusetts citizens and will have no negative effects on anyone else."


WHO: Executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, former Massachusetts legislator

POSITION: Vocal proponent of equal marriage rights

ROLE: Republican ray of fight

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "No church, synagogue, or mosque will be forced to recognize same-sex relationships. This ruling is about the responsibilities and rights that only government can confer with civil recognition."


WHO: Departing Massachusetts state senator, incoming executive director of the Human Rights Campaign

POSITION: Supports equal marriage rights

ROLE: Her post at HRC and her Massachusetts roots put herin a unique position to fight for full marriage equality.

WHAT SHE'S SAYING NOW: "After same-sex marriage is legalized, the vast majority of people will realize that nothing bad happened, that the sky did not fall."


WHO: Executive director of Freedom to Marry

POSITION: Leading activist for equal marriage fights

ROLE: Go-to guy on gay marriage

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "They will make the same gloom-and-doom cries as they did when America ended race discrimination in marriage and women's subordination in marriage and got the government out of the business of deciding when people can use contraception. But the majority is going to see that no one is hurt by allowing gay people to marry."


WHO: Attorney from Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders who successfully argued the Massachusetts marriage case

POSITION: Leading proponent of equal marriage rights

ROLE: The go-to woman on gay marriage

WHAT SHE'S SAYING NOW: "At long last, and lesbian families and their children will finally be equal families in the commonwealth."



WHO: President of the United States

POSITION: Opposes equal marriage rights

ROLE: Has an antigay bully pulpit

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "I will work with congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage."


WHO: Democratic speaker of the slate house of representatives

POSITION: Champion of an amendment to the state constitution to ban gay marriage

ROLE: One of the state's most powerful politicians

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: He has not commented on the ruling.


WHO: U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and former mayor of Boston

POSITION: Opposes gay marriage

ROLE: An antimarriage White House representative to an antigay Vatican

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "Not only is this decision a Massachusetts decision, but this will affect the New Hampshire primary and the election itself."


WHO: Catholic archbishop

POSITION: Opposes equal marriage rights

ROLE: The antigay Vatican's representative in Boston

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "It is alarming that the Supreme Judicial Court in this ruling has cast aside ... the very definition of marriage held by peoples for thousands of years."


WHO: Massachusetts governor POSITION: A Republican and a Mormon, he vows to veto arty bill granting equal marriage rights.

ROLE: He could stymie any legislative attempts to abide by the top court's ruling.

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history. I disagree with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.



WHO: Former Vermont governor and Democratic presidential aspirant

POSITION: As governor he signed Vermont's civil unions law; as a presidential candidate he says he supports civil unions but opposes equal marriage rights.

ROLE: Politicians and the media will turn to him for advice and perspective because of his experience and national platform.

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "This decision should be viewed as an opportunity to affirm what binds us together--a fundamental belief in the equality of human beings, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation."


WHO: U.S. senator from Massachusetts

POSITION: Supports civil unions; has not taken a position on marriage

ROLE: Vocal opponent of proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning same-sex marriage

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "It's wrong for any state to discriminate against gays and lesbians by denying them the many benefits and protections that the laws of the state provide for married couples."


WHO: U.S. senator from Massachusetts and Democratic presidential hopeful

POSITION: Opposes equal marriage fights but supports civil unions

ROLE: Has a national forum to address the issue

WHAT HE'S SAYING NOW: "While I continue to oppose gay marriage, I believe that [the ruling] calls on the Massachusetts state legislature to take action to ensure equal protection for gay couples. These protections are long overdue."


WHO: Massachusetts chief justice

POSITION: Banning gay marriage is unconstitutional.

ROLE: Will decide if the state legislature follows the constitution

WHAT SHE'S SAYING NOW: "Barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts constitution."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Marriage
Author:Dahir, Mubarak
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Dec 23, 2003
Previous Article:Fast times at Harvey Milk High: five arrests put the nation's only public high school for gay students back under the media spotlight.
Next Article:Person of the year: Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

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