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Court's Eye for the married guy

Should a man be allowed to marry another man and a woman another woman? Activist courts say yes, most Americans say no, and politicians will have a tough time satisfying voters with a maybe. The battle lines are still being drawn, but"gay marriage" is likely to be a defining issue for the 2004 political campaign

Issue: "Gay marriage backlash," Dec. 6, 2003

Luanne James knows about race-based marital discrimination. She is white; her husband Kurt is black. When Mrs. James takes their daughter Gabrielle, 6, for a haircut, she goes to a braidery, a salon that specializes in serving African-Americans. "The women there will say how beautiful my daughter is," said Mrs. James, 34, of San Diego. "But then I hear them saying how frustrating it is to see a good black man, one who works hard and takes care of his family, married to a white woman. They have no problem saying it in front of me."

Mr. James, 36, knows about discrimination, too. "I've seen it from both blacks and whites looking at us as a couple."

But the Jameses see no comparison between their struggle for marital acceptance and the battle homosexuals are waging in the courts to gain acceptance of "gay marriage." When the Massachusetts Supreme Court on Nov. 17 ruled in Goodrich vs. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health that the state constitution prohibits the state from stating that marriage is between a man and a woman, Justice Margaret H. Marshall wrote for the majority:

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"For decades, indeed centuries, in much of this country (including Massachusetts) no lawful marriage was possible between white and black Americans.... [In Goodrich], a statute deprives individuals of access to an institution of fundamental legal, personal, and social significance-the institution of marriage-because of a single trait ... sexual orientation.... As it did in [past race-based cases] history must yield to a more fully developed understanding of the invidious quality of the discrimination."

"That," said Mrs. James, "is a crock."

The Massachusetts court used its clout to peddle the notion that "gay marriage" is in the tradition of extending civil rights to disadvantaged groups, but the Jameses and millions of other American families aren't buying. Conservatives and liberals alike acknowledge that Goodrich, in which justices gave the Massachusetts legislature six months to fashion new marriage laws in the court's liberal image, opens the door for the legal redefinition of marriage nationwide. That prospect has galvanized talk of a federal constitutional amendment and put pressure on Democratic presidential hopefuls who mouth support for Goodrich's lunge toward gay "legal equality" but claim not to support "gay marriage" per se.

The Jameses won't be voting Democratic. Mr. James, a native of Trinidad who moved to the United States at age 9, is a registered nurse. Mrs. James is a full-time mom who volunteers at the elementary school where Gabrielle and Nathan, 8, attend. Sitting together in their living room on a tan sectional under a painting of an island scene, the Jameses are matter-of-fact about their opposition to gay marriage.

"It makes me so mad, what we go through as an average American family, trying to be husband and wife, trying to raise children, with a 50 percent divorce rate, the statistics against us, to have gays say, 'We're just like them and we deserve their rights,'" Mrs. James said. "They are just like us as children of God, but they are not like us in being part of the gift of marital union. The biblical covenant of marriage cannot be compared to two men going to bed."

An October Gallup poll found that most Americans hold similar views: 64 percent of voters over age 30 opposed gay marriage, while just under half of voters between ages 18 and 29 felt the same way. Recent Time/CNN and Pew Research Center polls yielded similar results. Goodrich may be spurring even more grassroots opposition. Massachusetts lawmakers report a landslide of citizen e-mails urging the legislature to adopt a state constitutional amendment that would nullify Goodrich by restricting marriage to one man and one woman. And, after the decision came down, the Virginia-based Alliance for Marriage (AFM) saw citizen signatures on a petition supporting a federal marriage amendment jump 20 percent overnight.

Observing the rise of judicial activism on behalf of homosexuals, AFM president Matt Daniels has long predicted the virtual certainty of a decision like Goodrich. His group has since 2001 worked to shepherd through Congress a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. AFM emphasizes its racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, and has an advisory board that includes blacks, whites, Hispanics, Koreans, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and evangelicals-a fact studiously ignored by media outlets that prefer to paint those opposed to gay marriage as angry, white foot soldiers of the religious right.

AFM's amendment, originally introduced in 2001 and then reintroduced by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.) as House Joint Resolution 56 in 2003, states: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or legal incidents thereof be conferred on unmarried couples or groups."

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