The court ruled eight months after hearing arguments on the case, which was initiated in 2001 by seven same-sex couples who applied for marriage licenses and were rejected. The decision provides for a 180-day period to permit the legislature to take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of the opinion.
The court ruling states, Whether and whom to marry, how to express sexual intimacy, and whether and how to establish a familythese are among the most basic of every individuals liberty and due process rights. It notes that civil marriage is an evolving paradigm, citing how under common law a womans legal identity all but evaporated into that of her husband, and comparing the ban on same-sex marriage to previous bans on marriage between Blacks and whites that were repealed in past decades.
At the same time, the court ruling argued for shoring up the institution of marriage in a way that will reinforce the burden of social needs placed on individual family members. It states that civil marriage is central to the way the Commonwealth [the state government]…ensures that children and adults are cared for and supported whenever possible from private, rather than public funds.
President George Bush condemned the decision, as did Massachusetts governor Willard Romney, who said, I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history. On the other hand, Romney announced he would support a legislative package to provide some domestic partner benefits for gay couples, including hospital visitation rights, health-care benefits, and the right to pass property to children.
Romney, a Republican, and Democratic state house speaker Thomas Finneran have endorsed a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would establish marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman, although at present they do not appear to have enough support in the legislature to pass it. If approved, such an amendment could come before voters by 2006. Thirty-seven states have passed legislation asserting that marriage is limited to a man and a woman. Romney and Finneran are probing the possibility of proposing civil union legislation to meet the requirements of the court ruling without legalizing same-sex marriage. Neighboring Vermont approved same-sex civil unions three years ago.
The Boston Globe cited a recent Pew Research Center poll indicating that while 80 percent of people in the United States think the government should not put any restrictions on private sexual behavior between consenting adults, only 32 percent support gay marriage. In New Jersey, a lawsuit similar to the Massachusetts challenge to the marriage laws is headed for the state supreme court.
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