FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | February 4, 2004
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rules That Only Marriage, Not Civil Unions, Provides Equality for Same-Sex Couples
(San Francisco, CA, February 4, 2004) — In an advisory opinion issued this morning, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court strongly affirmed its prior ruling that only marriage - not civil unions or any other separate status - would satisfy the equality provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution. Today's decision was issued in response to a request from Massachusetts Senators who sought to establish civil unions for lesbian and gay couples rather than permit those couples to marry. In a strongly worded opinion, the high court pointedly declined the legislators' invitation to revisit its prior decision, stating: "The court has answered the question." The court's prior decision was issued in response to a lawsuit by seven Massachusetts couples who sued for the right to marry, represented by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a legal advocacy group in Boston.
"By refusing to back down from its courageous decision in Goodridge, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has shown tremendous integrity," said Kate Kendell, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who filed an amicus brief in the case. "Once again, the Court has placed the fundamental principles of fairness and equality at the forefront of its decision."
The court ruled that a draft bill submitted by the Massachusetts Senate that would give lesbian and gay couples many of the rights and responsibilities of marriage did not provide true equality. "Because the proposed law by its express terms forbids same-sex couples entry into civil marriage, it continues to relegate same-sex couples to a different status....The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal."
The court held that the difference between civil unions and marriage is not merely semantic, stating: "For no rational reason the marriage laws of the Commonwealth discriminate against a defined class; no amount of tinkering with language will eradicate that stain. The bill would have the effect of maintaining and fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits."
In its prior decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court gave the state 180 days to comply with its ruling. Today's opinion reiterated this timeframe, which would permit same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses on May 17, 2004.
In addition to Massachusetts, same-sex couples have also filed lawsuits seeking the right to marry in New Jersey, Arizona, and Indiana.
In California, Assemblyman Mark Leno has announced his intention to introduce a bill that would abolish marriage discrimination against same-sex couples. Equality California, the state's leading LGBT advocacy group, has strongly endorsed Leno's proposal and vowed to fight for full marriage equality. Last year, California enacted legislation giving domestic partners many of the rights and responsibilities of married couples under state law; however, lesbian and gay couples continue to be excluded from marriage.
Geoffrey Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, the statewide LGBT advocacy group, added: "California is the only state so far to pass comprehensive legal protections through a domestic partner system, and we are extremely proud of that success. But we have a long way to go before we reach our goal of full equality for every lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Californian. We will continue to fight for marriage equality through public education and legislative efforts while supporting the legal effort to ensure equality under the Constitution."
NCLR also strongly supports the legislation and is working closely with Equality California in drafting the bill, which will be introduced this month.
For more information on the case, go to GLAD's website at http://www.glad.org/.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.