“Mass. gay marriage ban overturned“ 今天在新闻周刊上看到的。(转载)

Massachusetts?highest court ruled Tuesday that same-sex couples are legally entitled to wed under the state constitution, but stopped short of allowing marriage licenses to be issued to the couples who challenged the law. The Supreme Judicial Court 4-3 ruling ordered the Legislature to come up with a solution within 180 days.

  “WE DECLARE that barring an individual from the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution,” the court majority declared.

   Under a 1996 law, the federal government does not recognize gay marriages. One state, Vermont, allows same-sex civil unions. The key difference between civil unions and marriage is that benefits from civil unions would stop at the Massachusetts border while rights from marriage would extend across the country — giving gay couples equality under federal laws for taxes, health and retirement benefits, among other areas.

   The Massachusetts court left the details of the issue to the Legislature, but advocates said the case took a significant step beyond the 1999 Vermont Supreme Court decision that led to civil unions in that state.

   Attorney Mary Bonauto, who represented the seven gay couples who sued the state, said the only task assigned to the Legislature is to come up with changes in the law that will allow gay couples to marry at the end of the 180-day period.

  Vermont-style civil unions would not be enough, she said, because that would fall short of marriage. A constitutional ban on gay marriage could not be enacted in Massachusetts until 2006 because it takes seveal years to change the state’s constitution.

   “This is a very good day for gay and lesbian families in Massachusetts and throughout the country,” Bonauto said.

  POLITICAL OPPOSITION AMONG

   But the issue may find a hostile audience in the Massachusetts Legislature, which has been considering a constitutional amendment that would legally define a marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The state’s powerful Speaker of the House, Tom Finneran of Boston, has endorsed this proposal.

  And Republican Gov. Mitt Romney criticizing the ruling, saying: “Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. I will support an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that makes that expressly clear. Of course, we must provide basic civil rights and appropriate benefits to nontraditional couples, but marriage is a special institution that should be reserved for a man and a woman.”

   A key group of state lawmakers also has recently been working behind the scenes to craft civil union legislation similar to the law passed in Vermont.

   At the national level, meanwhile, the U.S. House is considering a constitutional ban on gay marriage. And Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, promised to fight back, saying lawmakers should now consider a constitutional amendment “to protect and safeguard marriage.”

   President Bush, although he believes marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman, recently said that a constitutional amendment is not yet necessary.

  OTHER RECENT RULINGS

   Gay and lesbian advocates had been cheered by a series of advances this year, including a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down anti-sodomy laws, the ordination of an openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, and a Canadian appeals court ruling that it was unconstitutional to deny gay couples the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples. Belgium and the Netherlands also have legalized gay marriage.

   In addition to Vermont, courts in Hawaii and Alaska have previously ruled that the states did not have a right to deny marriage to gay couples. In those two states, the decisions were followed by the adoption of constitutional amendments limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. No American court has ordered the issuance of a marriage license — a privilege reserved for heterosexual couples.

  BACKGROUND TO THE CASE

  The Massachusetts case began in 2001, when seven gay couples went to their city and town halls to obtain marriage licenses. All were denied, leading them to sue the state Department of Public Health, which administers the state’s marriage laws.

   A judge threw out the case in 2002, ruling that nothing in state law gives gay couples the right to marry. The couples appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court.

   The plaintiffs argued that barring them from marrying a partner of the same sex denied them access to an intrinsic human experience and violated basic constitutional rights.

   The state’s Attorney General’s office, which defended the Department of Public Health, argued that neither state law nor its constitution created a right to same-sex marriage. The state also said any decision to extend marriage to same-sex partners should be made by elected lawmakers, not the courts.

  Gary Chalmers, left, and Rich Linnell, right, both of Northbridge, Mass., are among the plaintiffs in the gay marriage case.

“Mass. gay marriage ban overturned“ 今天在新闻周刊上看到的。(转载)

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