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Massachusetts Court Rules in Favor of Gay Marriage

Aired November 18, 2003 - 10:13   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Getting back now to our breaking news out of Massachusetts. More information now on this ruling out of the Massachusetts supreme court on the issue of-same sex marriages. The high court in Massachusetts did rule today that same-sex couples legally should be allowed to wed under the state constitution of Massachusetts. But now we're getting more information that shows it's not a complete victory for the seven couples that filed this lawsuit back in 2001. It was seven couples filing a lawsuit asking to get marriage licenses within the state. And where the high court in Massachusetts has said they do have the right to marry, it stops short of granting those licenses to the couples who challenge the law.
Also, it's a very close ruling, 4-3 decision.

And now actually, the Massachusetts supreme court has tossed it to the state legislature, demanding that the state legislature come up with a solution, and do that in 180 days. A hot potato if there ever was one.

I want to get to both sides of this issue right now. Joining us live from Washington D.C. to talk about this, Connie Mackey of the Family Research Council and Elizabeth Birch, executive director of The Human Rights Campaign.

HEMMER: Ladies, good morning. Thanks for being with u.

Elizabeth, I want to start with you, on your reaction on this decision today, out of the Massachusetts supreme court.

ELIZABETH BIRCH, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: Well, the reasoning is very heartening and very exciting. I think what we would have liked to have seen is for the Massachusetts supreme court to really win a profile in courage and go all the way and simply construe not only the right to marry, but to order that.

Instead, they have sent it back to the Massachusetts legislature to come up with a solution in 180 days, and to reconstrue the Massachusetts statute that governs marriage to ensure that gay and lesbian couples are afforded the same rights and protections. I think we need to see how that will play out, what that will mean, and whether now the Massachusetts legislature will have the ultimate courage that the court did not have, because having concluded that gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts and their children are allowed to have the rights and the protections and all of the benefits that are afforded other tax-paying long-term couples in Massachusetts, it would have been very, very nice for them to have taken that final step. KAGAN: All right, Connie, let's bring in you in here, and I want to just read you a little bit that came out of the decision, because it sounds like the high court is trying to talk specifically to people who have very tough concerns about same-sex marriage, and they write, "We are mindful that our decision marks a change in the history of our marriage law. Many people hold deep-seated religious, moral and ethical convictions that marriage should be limited to the union of one man and one woman, and that homosexual conduct is immoral."

But If I skip forward a little bit, it says neither answers the question before us, and this court, at least 4-3, felt this was a constitutional question, and not a question of whether or not you're against homosexuality.

Your response?

CONNIE MACKEY, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, for us, at Family Research Council, this is a clear case of a court overruling the majority will of the people. The family unit has been held together for thousands and thousands of years with a man and a woman, that means a mom and a dad for children, and that is what we support.

I think what is going to happen here is the same thing that happened in Vermont, and that is if the will of the people has anything to say about it, they will throw out any of the legislators that uphold this decision, and that is what happened in Vermont, and that's what will happen here again.

Now, the Federal Marriage Amendment has been something simmering in the background, waiting for this decision.

KAGAN: Are you talking about the mood to get a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage?

MACKEY: Correct. And I think this is what people who consider marriage a sacrament and an institution to protect are going to get full speed behind, because the courts are just having a will of their own, and they're not representing the will of the people at all here.

So perhaps this is a good thing, the American public has a chance to stand up and shout loud, that the union of a man and a woman in the state of marriage is beneficial to children, and children deserve initially a mom and dad, and they all have the right to start off with that.

KAGAN: Elizabeth, let's bring you in here. Connie, does make a point that's interesting if you go back to this summer and some of the decisions that came, especially out of the Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, talking about the anti-sodomy law and striking those downs. What initially looked like a victory for gay rights for a lot of people was a problem because of the backlash that it inspires?

BIRCH: Yes, that backlash has all but dissipated. Let me clarify a few things. First of all, in Vermont, not that many people were thrown out of office. In fact, the governor was re-elected. A number of people were re-elected to the legislature there. And I'm sure Connie is not saying that our courts don't play a vital role in the history of America. It's not for courts. African-Americans would not have had the vote, women would not have had the vote, and the courts play an important, important role.


BIRCH: Excuse me, Connie, may I finish.

The purpose of a constitution is to protect a minority group from the wrath of the majority. Now, in fact, about half of Americans understand that a government-issued civil marriage license is not a threat.

MACKEY: Marriage is not the wrath of the public.

BIRCH: It is not a threat to the United States, and in fact, that tax paying gay and lesbian couples...

KAGAN: Connie, let her finish. Go ahead.

BIRCH: Who indeed, you know, the fact is that marriage in the United States is in trouble, but that's because the divorce rate is at an all-time high. People are not taking care of their children. Half a million people...

KAGAN: Ladies, let me jump in here. Hold on.


BIRCH: Sorry, Connie, if you could be polite for a moment.

MACKEY: I'm trying to be.


KAGAN: Elizabeth, I need both of you to hold on for a second, before we totally lose control here, which I was on the verge of doing, I want to look forward, the next step for each side.

Elizabeth, you are somewhat disappointed that the courts didn't go all the way and demand that there be a change and that these marriage licenses be granted. That's not going to happen. It's going to the state legislature. What's the next move for your side?

BIRCH: Well, It's not a side, really. It is really about the fact that there are gay and lesbian couples all over America.

KAGAN: But it is a very political issue. Elizabeth, there are people that are lobbying for change. So if you're lobbying for change, what is the next step?

BIRCH: Well, the next step is that we will continue to educate our country, that indeed a civil marriage license, government issued, is proper for tax-paying hardworking citizens, and it should be provided on an equal basis, so people can take care of their partners and their children. and none of that... KAGAN: I'm sorry.

Connie, what's the next step if you are not in favor of what the Massachusetts supreme court has done so far? It sounds like either way, the spotlight is going to be on the legislature in Massachusetts?

MACKEY: I agree, and look, the American public and the cultures for thousands of years have seen the family unit as between one man and one woman for the purpose of raising children.

BIRCH: That is also not true.


MACKEY: I think we have a long enough diatribe from your part.

I'm serious about this, the American public had better get behind the Federal Marriage Amendment and support it if they want to protect the institution and the sacrament of marriage.

BIRCH: I would just say that the Family Research Council conveniently skips The Old Testament.

KAGAN: That's going to have to be the last word from D.C. Thank you, ladies, to both of you from -- we told you it was an emotional issue, and it is, stirring up emotions on both sides, and we appreciate both of you appearing today on such short a notice. Appreciate that.


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