Mass. court ruling a goodstep toward gay equality

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled Tuesday that the ban on gay marriages was unconstitutional and that the state had six months to change the state laws accordingly.

The court stated, “We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because the person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution.”

This is a major decision in the struggle for gay rights in America because it could force Massachusetts to be the first state to recognize and permit gay marriages.

In 1999, Vermont’s Supreme Judicial Court passed a ruling allowing for the passage of a law that let gay couples have civil unions with all the rights and benefits of marriage. What makes the Massachusetts ruling different is that it makes no mention of civil unions. The ruling cites the recent decision in Ontario, Canada that allowed for the issuance of marriage licenses to gay couples, and includes other pro-marriage language.

The wording of the ruling is unclear in decisively stating whether the Massachusetts court would accept any alternatives to marriage, such as civil unions.

These changes could mean that longtime couples could finally get legal recognition of their status as a couple, with all the rights and duties that accompany it.

“Without a doubt, this is the happiest day of our lives,” said Gloria Bailey, who, with her partner of 32 years, was one of the seven gay couples that brought the lawsuit against the state for denying them a marriage license.

Now Massachusetts must change its laws to allow gay marriages or possible civil unions within the next six months. The only way experts say the state can stop this is by passing a constitutional amendment, which cannot be put on a ballot until at least 2006.

In the 1990s, both the Alaskan and Hawaiian courts ruled that the ban against gay marriages was unconstitutional, but both states’ legislatures amended their states’ constitutions to ban them. Even the House of Representatives is considering trying to pass a national constitutional ban on gay marriages.

The ruling has already provoked strong reaction with some religious groups contending that marriage is intended only for the union of a man and a woman. A similar outcry greeted the repealing of laws prohibiting interracial marriage in 1948. Then, as now, the change is unlikely to have an earth-shattering effect on society in general but will improve the lives of many who reside in legal limbo.

There is no doubt that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling is a major step forward in the advancement of the rights of gay couples. This ruling allows gay couples to feel a real sense of equality and slowly but gradually works toward an end in what might be the major civil rights issue of our time.