Wednesday, February 04, 2004

OK, So I Was Wrong

Last fall, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that the state constitution's equal protection clause required same sex-couples to be given the same rights as married couples, I figured that the court's opinion left room for the legislature to craft a civil union solution to the problem.

Today, at the request the legislature, the Supreme Court had proven me wrong. The court announced that the only way to ensure compliance with the state constitution would be to allow homosexual couples to marry just like heterosexuals do. The court held that the different labels of "marriage" and "civil union" were impermissible, even if the practical effects of the two things was exactly the same. In essence, the court refused to sign off on a "separate but equal" concept. I actually tend to agree with the dissenting opinion that points out the various ways that hetero and homosexual marriages will still be different, mostly due to their disparate treatment by the other states and the federal government. That would seem to be a rational basis for the different names.

The effect of this development may be more sweeping than those on either side of this debate can immediately see. The legislature seemed ready to set up the civil union scheme and be done with it. Now, faced with the choice of completely legalizing gay marriage, legislators may be persuaded to amend the state constitution and override the court's decision. After all, it was the legislators, not the plaintiffs in the original law suit, who asked for this opinion. The plaintiffs may have been perfectly happy with the civil union setup.

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