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1 year later: Mass. marriage ruling sparked national backlash

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–One year ago this month, Massachusetts’ high court handed down its historic ruling legalizing same-sex “marriage,” sparking a nationwide backlash that is still being felt.

In the year since that ruling, 13 states have banned same-sex “marriage” within their respective constitutions, and other states are almost certain to follow. The U.S. House and Senate debated a nationwide ban on “gay marriage,” and although it failed, leaders in both chambers promise to bring it up again.

But perhaps most significantly, President Bush — who was opposed by the nation’s homosexual activist groups — was re-elected, and social conservatives saw gains in both the House and Senate.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court may have handed homosexual activists a victory on Nov. 18, 2003, but it led to defeats elsewhere.

“If you look at where we are one year later, you’ve got to say that the nation has woken up to Massachusetts and said, ‘No, not in my state,'” Peter Brandt, senior director of public policy for Focus on the Family, told Baptist Press. “… What people are saying is, ‘I don’t want one unelected, un-accountable person in a black robe in Massachusetts to define what marriage is and what marriage should be. We want to decide that.”

The Massachusetts court itself was closely divided, voting 4-3 to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the state. The majority delayed the impact of its decision until May 17, when the first marriage licenses were issued.

The case began in 2001 when seven same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses and sued. A lower court rejected their arguments, but the Supreme Judicial Court agreed to take the case and heard oral arguments in March 2003. A ruling was expected in July of that year, but the court passed its internal deadline, leaving court-watchers guessing as to the reason behind the delay. A ruling finally was handed down last November — some eight months after oral arguments.

The same legal organization that had successfully sued in Vermont for civil unions — the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders — represented the same-sex couples in the Massachusetts lawsuit. The organization was scheduled to hold a celebratory party on the one-year anniversary.

But many homosexual activists are wondering if GLAD and other homosexual groups pushed too far, too fast. When the year began, only four states had constitutional amendments banning same-sex “marriage.” Now, 17 states do. Amendments went 13-for-13 this year, passing with an average of 70.8 percent of the vote.

“[I]n this chill fall air, it’s time to face harsh reality,” Mickey Wheatley, an attorney and homosexual activist, wrote in the Los Angeles Times Nov. 10. “We grossly miscalculated. Our gambit for marriage was a resounding failure.”

Steve Weinstein, editor of the homosexual newspaper New York Blade, was even more harsh in a post-election column. He argued that the same-sex “marriage” issue ended up “handing the election” to Bush.

“I accuse the gay leadership in this country of putting their own selfish interests above the greater good of the electorate,” Weinstein wrote. “There is no reason why we should have been pursuing the issue of gay marriage on the eve of an election year. The key to being a good general is not knowing how to choose the victories, but in judiciously choosing your defeats.

“Would it have made such a difference to those couples in Massachusetts if they had waited a year or two before tying the knot? Would it have hurt San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom or New Paltz Mayor Jason West to have put off marrying gay couples until Nov. 3, 2004?”

Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, in the opinion she penned last November, called marriage an “evolving paradigm” and compared bans on same-sex “marriage” to bans on interracial marriage.

“Certainly our decision today marks a significant change in the definition of marriage as it has been inherited from the common law, and understood by many societies for centuries,” Marshall wrote.

Borrowing language from the Ontario Court of Appeal — which also legalized same-sex “marriage” — Marshall said the new definition of marriage would be the “voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.”

Following the decision, Massachusetts state legislators completed the first of a lengthy three-step process to amend the state constitution and reverse the court’s ruling. An amendment that would ban same-sex “marriage” while legalizing civil unions — the best conservatives could do in the liberal legislature – was passed and must pass another in the upcoming legislative session before going to voters in 2006.

The ruling made the United States one of only four countries to offer same-sex “marriage” in at least one jurisdiction. The others are the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada.

The ruling capped what many had labeled the “gay year” — it began in the summer of 2003 with the Ontario court legalizing same-sex “marriage” and following with the U.S. Supreme Court overturning anti-sodomy laws.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom kept pro-family groups on the defensive in February by ordering city officials to issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Thousands of homosexual couples showed up at city hall, despite the fact that California law explicitly bans same-sex “marriage.” (A court subsequently told Newsom to stop.) Two weeks later, Bush publicly announced his support for a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Pro-family groups — on the defensive for months — saw an opportunity in the Nov. 2 election and went on the offensive, encouraging legislatures in various states to place same-sex “marriage” bans on the ballot. When that didn’t work, the groups began petition drives.

Thirteen states placed amendments on the ballot, with six of them occurring through the petition process. Pro-family groups in Arkansas gathered double the required number of signatures. Pro-family groups in Oregon did, too.

The amendments may have been the difference in the election — particularly in Ohio. In the battleground state of Ohio, exit polls showed that 25 percent of voters there called themselves white evangelicals, and 76 percent of them voted for Bush. In addition, Bush got the support from 16 percent of African Americans in Ohio — significantly higher than the 11 percent of support among blacks nationally.

But homosexual activists aren’t giving up, and may have victories ahead. The Washington state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments March 8 in a same-sex “marriage” case that could make that state the second to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples. Including Washington, nine states are defending their marriage laws in court.

In addition, seven lawsuits are pending in federal court against the Defense of Marriage Act, which gives states the option of not recognizing another state’s same-sex “marriages.” If struck down, all 50 states could be forced to legalize same-sex “marriage.”

Pro-family leaders say the lawsuits underscore the need for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Nebraska’s amendment is being challenged in federal court. So is Oklahoma’s. A federal amendment would be lawsuit-proof.

“The very fact that the Louisiana amendment is being attacked in court speaks to the need of a federal marriage amendment,” Focus on the Family’s Brandt said. “We cannot operate in this country with a patchwork of 51 laws — each dealing slightly different with the protection of marriage.”

Once a state amendment is struck down, Brandt said, politicians who have argued that marriage should be a states’ rights issue are going to be in a tough spot.

“All of a sudden they’re going to have nowhere to hide,” he said.
For more information about the national debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

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  • Michael Foust