Civil Rights, Legal Groups Voice Support of Same-Sex Marriage

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - A coalition of prominent public policy, civil rights and legal organizations is throwing its support behind a bid by seven same-sex couples in Massachusetts who are seeking the right to marry.

The case, Goodridge vs. the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, could be heard by the state supreme court as early as January, legal analysts said. If the couples are successful, the case could change the meaning of marriage in America.

Some 67 major organizations in Massachusetts - including the American Civil Liberties Union and medical and legal groups - and 88 professors from prestigious law schools around the country, have filed amicus briefs in support of the couples, according to information released by the Alliance for Marriage.

Denying the couples "the fundamental protections secured by our Constitution because they fell in love with someone of the same sex violates the most basic principles and protections guaranteed to them," lawyers for the plaintiffs argue.

Plaintiff lawyers also said the state's objections to homosexual marriage are nothing more than "rationalizations for a deeply-rooted legacy of anti-gay bias, stereotypes, and prejudice that has no place in our civic life."

Briefs filed in support of the couples said Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) laws stand in the way of same-sex couples receiving equal treatment and subject them to exclusions from benefits of federal laws and programs, and are therefore unconstitutional.

"It is only with 'marriage' that Massachusetts citizens can challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act," the Boston Bar Association said in a brief.

No state has yet allowed homosexual marriage. However, 36 states have passed amendments forbidding same-sex unions. In 2000, Vermont became the first state to allow civil unions for same-sex couples, which granted them most of the same rights as married couples.

The Boston Bar Association said, however, that civil unions do not go far enough to protect the "marriage" rights of same-sex couples because recognition of the certificates beyond state borders is still uncertain.

"With the grant of marriage under state law, however, such couples would have strong federal constitutional claims in favor of recognition," the Boston Bar Association said.

Groups that support traditional marriage, including the Alliance for Marriage and the Marriage Law Project - are monitoring the case closely.

"It really takes some creativity to argue that John Adams and the others in 1780 intended to legalize same-sex marriage when they adopted the Massachusetts Constitution," said Joshua Baker, an attorney with the Marriage Law Project in Washington.

"Whether that's going to stop the court I don't know, but there are strong arguments to be made and I certainly don't think it's a lost cause," he said.

Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, said in a statement: "This is simply more confirmation of the massive national legal fallout - for every state in the nation - that will result from the coming destruction of marriage in Massachusetts in 2003."

Activist organizations have threatened they will use the "Full Faith and Credit" clause of the Constitution to impose same-sex marriage and civil unions on every state.

Under this clause, once a state legalizes same-sex marriage, other states also will have to recognize that marriage, they argue.

Baker said, however, this is becoming a minority position among legal analysts who have studied the issue.

"Obviously it's difficult to predict what a court's going to do, but essentially the recognized view is that if a state has a strong public policy against same-sex marriage, they won't be forced to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state," he said.

Homosexual advocacy lawyers also argue that to treat same-sex couples differently from opposite sex couples is a violation of the "Equal Protection" clause of the Constitution.

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