WASHINGTON (ABP) — The advent of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage in the United States was greeted May 17 with celebrations at city halls in Massachusetts — and a somber condemnation from President Bush.
At 9:15 a.m. Eastern time, Marcia Kadish and Tonya McCloskey were married by a city clerk in Cambridge, Mass. The lesbian couple were the first to be reported married in the state. The famously liberal municipality, just across the Charles River from Boston and home to Harvard University, opened the doors of its city hall at 12:01 a.m. to begin offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Some couples granted licenses then went to a judge to obtain a waiver from the state's normal three-day waiting period between being issued a marriage license and actually becoming legally wed. Hundreds of other couples have already done the same thing in Cambridge and other cities across the state.
“'It was really important to us to just be married. We want to be married as soon as we possibly can,'' McCloskey told the Boston Globe. She also noted that part of the couple's urgency was dictated by the fact that the future legality of same-sex marriage in the state remains uncertain.
Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Legislature gave initial approval to an amendment to the state's constitution banning same-sex marriage but establishing marriage-like “civil unions” for gay couples. However, the measure must receive a second round of approval from legislators next year and then be placed before the commonwealth's voters. The earliest it could take effect would be 2006.
Massachusetts officials began issuing the marriage licenses May 17 under orders from the commonwealth's Supreme Judicial Court. That panel ruled in November that regulations banning the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples violated the state's constitution. The contentious 4-3 ruling has set off a legal and political firestorm across the country.
Opponents of same-sex marriage fear the marriages in Massachusetts will provide a legal foothold for gay couples married there to sue for their unions to be recognized in other states. Laws in 38 states, as well as on the federal level, ban governmental recognition of same-sex marriages.
Some legal scholars have predicted that such lawsuits would fail due to federal court precedents in the area of states' rights. But other experts have suggested the current Supreme Court would ultimately uphold — on different legal grounds — a challenge to all federal and state laws banning same-sex marriages.
Because of that, gay-rights opponents in Congress have proposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would alter the Constitution specifically to ban marriage, or “the legal incidents thereof,” for same-sex couples. In a hearing on the amendment before the House Judiciary Committee May 13, failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork said, “This matter will not be left to the states by the courts.”
In a nod to the event's importance, the White House released a statement May 17 reiterating President Bush's support for the amendment. “The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges,” Bush said. “I called on the Congress to pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of a man and a woman as husband and wife. The need for that amendment is still urgent, and I repeat that call today.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, took the argument further. “If we do not immediately pass a constitutional amendment protecting marriage, we will not only lose the institution of marriage in our nation, but eventually all critics of the homosexual lifestyle will be silenced,” Perkins said, in a May 17 release. “Churches will be muted, schools will be forced to promote homosexuality as a consequence-free alternative lifestyle, and our nation will find itself embroiled in a cultural, legal and moral quagmire.”
But at least one gay-rights leader compared such rhetoric to that of those who reacted negatively to a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement that took place on May 17, 1954.
“The court's job is to make sure that everyone's constitutional rights are protected, and that's exactly what happened in Massachusetts,” said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal. “President Bush is putting himself in the company of segregationists who made the same attacks on judges who upheld the constitutional rights of African-American people exactly 50 years ago today, after Brown vs. Board of Education. These are different issues and a different generation, but the same old smear tactic.”
With the marriages, Massachusetts becomes one of only six jurisdictions around the world where same-sex couples may wed legally. The others are the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.