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Gay Marriage Gains New Legal Ground

By Lara Rogers

From the Texas to Massachusetts, gay rights supporters have recently gained legal ground.

According to Cambridge City Clerk Margaret Drury, Cambridge will begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples “as soon as it’s legally possible.”

However, Drury said that she did not know when the issuing of licenses would become possible because the state registrar must first create the new marriage licenses that will recognize same-sex couples.

There are individuals at MIT who plan to apply for licenses when they become available, according to Ricky Gresh, staff coordinator of MIT’s Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay & Transgendered (LBGT) group. The availability of gay marriage in Massachusetts may also play some role in the people interested in living and working in Massachusetts. However, Gresh said the legalization of gay marriage “does not represent a policy change at MIT, which already has most benefits for same-sex spouses.”

Gay rights gain ground in 2003

Two landmark cases upholding gay rights were decided in 2003.

In Lawrence v. Texas, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Texas law criminalizing sodomy between same-sex partners.

John G. Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in their home after police were dispatched to the home to investigate a reported weapons disturbance and observed the two men engaged in sex.

The defendants argued that their conviction violated their constitutional rights to equal protection, liberty and privacy as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court ruled that the anti-sodomy laws did violate Lawrence and Garner’s rights. Lawrence and Garner “are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

By doing so, the Court overturned a ruling it had made 17 years earlier in the anti-sodomy case of Bowers v. Hardwick. The Lawrence decision is expected to invalidate anti-sodomy laws in the 13 states where such laws are still on the books.

Mass. gay marriage ban overruled

The second major gay rights decision of 2003 was handed down Nov. 18 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Each state determines its own laws on marriage, and in November, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state must provide “the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage” to same-sex couples. Civil unions were already ruled legal in the state of Vermont.

In Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that, according to the state constitution, there is no “constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.” The 4-3 decision made the Massachusetts gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

“The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens,” wrote Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall in the majority opinion.

The Supreme Judicial Court gave the state legislature 180 days -- until May 2004 -- to rewrite state marriage laws to comply with the ruling.

Even before the Goodridge decision, the Cambridge City Council affirmed its support for gay marriage in Policy Order 39, issued Aug. 4 of 2003.

Gay marriage draws opposition

Opponents of gay marriage are also seeking legal change.

According to a statement issued by the Vatican on July 31, 2003, “in those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty” for members of the Catholic faith.

On Jan. 21, 2004, the Ohio Legislature passed a measure to ban marriage and civil union for same-sex couples. Ohio’s ban will make it the 38th state with a Defense of Marriage Act, an act defining marriage as a union that can only exist between a man and a woman.

Currently, a federal Defense of Marriage Act stipulates that states that ban gay marriages do not have to honor homosexual marriages or civil unions from other states. However, if additional states declare gay marriage to be legal, political momentum could overturn the federal act.

As in Massachusetts, courts in Hawaii and Alaska previously decided that state constitutions did not support bans on gay marriage. Amendments to both states’ constitutions were subsequently passed to ban gay marriage.

An amendment to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts will come before state lawmakers on February 11th. However, even if supported by lawmakers, the proposed amendment cannot reach voters until 2006.

Though gay marriage may conflict with the spiritual values of some members of the local and national community, Gresh said that LBGT members continue to find support. “MIT’s a pretty welcoming place in general,” he said.