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Legacy of Gay Marriage Ruling Mixed


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Legacy of Gay Marriage Ruling Mixed

Everyday Hero


Associated Press Writer

May 14, 2005, 1:10 PM EDT

BOSTON -- Opponents saw it as a huge blow to the American family. Supporters looked on it as a moment of liberation. The first legal gay marriages in Massachusetts were a pivotal moment in America's culture wars. A year later, the legacy is mixed -- they remain legal here, and civil unions have been legalized in neighboring Connecticut, but a dozen states were propelled to prohibit same-sex weddings.

More than 6,000 same-sex couples have tied the knot in Massachusetts, many rushing to exchange vows in the days and weeks that followed the May 17 start to the weddings.

But the flurry of gay weddings that followed in California, Oregon and New York turned out to be merely symbolic, and activists have dug in for what they say could be a decades-long battle akin to the abortion divide.

One thing seems increasingly clear: Massachusetts could remain the country's sole haven for same-sex marriage for years to come.

"Massachusetts fundamentally changed the question," said Mary Bonauto, the attorney who represented the seven same-sex couples in the landmark lawsuit. "Now the question isn't whether gay and lesbian couples should be treated fairly under the law, the question is how and when."

For many states, however, the answer to that question seems to be "never."

So far, 18 states have passed constitutional amendments outlawing same-sex marriage while just one state -- Connecticut -- enacted a law legalizing civil unions.

"I think gay marriage in Massachusetts was a bridge too far for the gay activist movement. It's produced the biggest social backlash we've seen in our era," said Tom Minnery, vice president of public policy for the conservative Christian group Focus on the Family. "Gay activists will regret having pushed that limit when they did."

The story is far from over, even in Massachusetts, where the gay marriage question faces another crucial test later this year.

After the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2003 that the state constitution guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry -- and set May 17 as the first day the licenses could be issued -- opponents set their sights on changing the constitution.

Massachusetts lawmakers took the first step last year by passing a proposed amendment that would ban marriage but legalize civil unions -- a patchwork solution with an uncertain future. Lawmakers are expected to take a second vote later this year, which is required to put the amendment on a November 2006 ballot.

For the most part, though, the protests and rancor have died down in Massachusetts.

"There was so much tumult about this and fear and panic by our opponents," said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. "A year later the only people who seem to think about our marriages are the gay folks who got married."

Outside Massachusetts, it's a different story. Opponents say they expect the juggernaut of constitutional amendments blocking gay marriage to keep rolling along as more people realize the threat posed to traditional marriage.

Alabama, South Dakota and Tennessee plan elections next year on same-sex marriage bans, and more than a dozen other states are considering them.

"There's nothing clearer than the fact that the American people want marriage to be left alone," Minnery said. "This issue has awakened the conservative church and that wave is still building."

Gay marriage supporters think time is on their side. They say young people are more accepting of gay rights and as they age, the country as a whole will grow more tolerant.

"States like Massachusetts are doing something that's so important. They are educating the rest of the country that it is no big deal," said Cheryl Jacques, the former president of the Human Rights Campaign who married her partner in August. "Once you've tasted full equality there is no going back. There is no turning this around."

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On the Net:

Family Research Council: http://www.frc.org/

Human Rights Campaign: http://www.hrc.org

Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.


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