Mass. Court Fails To Issue Gay Marriage Ruling

Mon. July 14, 2003 12:00 AM by

Boston, Massachusetts - The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts let pass its target date Monday for issuing a ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage.

Under the court's own guidelines it tries to issue decisions within 130 days of hearing oral arguments, which in this case occurred on March 4. The deadline, however is non-binding and court officials had said as late as last week that the justices could exceed it if necessary.

Whether the delay is the result of deep divisions within the court is not known.

The case was brought by seven same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses. The suit said that the state's position that marriage is reserved for opposite sex couples constitutes discrimination based on sex.

The high court took the case on appeal from a Superior Court decision, which said that nothing in the state's laws or constitution requires Massachusetts to recognize gay marriage.

But, in her submission to the court, the plaintiffs' lawyer, Mary Bonauto, noted that the laws involving marriage do not define it in heterosexual terms. Because the state does not define marriage it cannot arbitrarily decide who cannot marry Bonauto argued.

"We're talking about people who don't have equality under the law and should have it, because all citizens in this state are born free and equal," said Bonauto, an attorney with the Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders.

Last week the prestigious Boston Globe published an editorial calling for the legalization of gay marriage. (story) But, a statewide coalition of conservative religious groups is attempting to get a ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution to prevent same-sex marriage.

Last month the US Supreme Court struck down the Texas sodomy laws, ruling that gays cannot be excluded from the 14th Amendment which guarantees Due Process.

Vermont and California recognize domestic partnerships, but laws in both states stop short of marriage. In California, as in a number of other states, there are laws preventing the recognition of gay marriages. The federal government has also enacted a so-called Defense of Marriage Act, with efforts underway by Republican lawmakers for a constitutional amendment that would bar gays from marrying.

Gay marriage is legal in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and British Columbia, with legislation expected in the fall to extend that across the country. Same-sex marriage is also legal in The Netherlands and Belgium.

In letting its self imposed deadline today pass, the court did not indicate when its ruling will be delivered.

©® 2003

This article originally appeared on Republished with permission.