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Mass. confusion

National | MARRIAGE: As Massachusetts prepares to make history by joining homosexual couples, opponents are split over what to do

Issue: "Iraq: The image war," May 22, 2004

Mayday! or May Day? In Massachusetts on May 17, it could be both a cultural-distress call and a history-making day as the commonwealth is slated to become the first in U.S. history to sanction homosexual marriages.

But even as the dawn of a new social paradigm looms, Massachusetts politicians and citizens opposed to gay marriage planned a few last stands. On May 4, former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, a Catholic Democrat, and Thomas Shields, chairman of the Coalition for Marriage, filed suit against the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). Filing as individual citizens, Mssrs. Flynn and Shields charged that SJC justices had, by mandating gay marriage in last year's Goodrich decision, unlawfully altered the state constitution, usurping their rights as citizens. The suit followed a similar one filed the previous week by 16 conservative state legislators. Both seek to vacate Goodrich.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced his intent to prevent his state from becoming "the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage." Homosexual couples applying for marriage licenses will have to prove they are Massachusetts residents. He told The New York Times: "We do not intend to export our marriage confusion to the entire nation."

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But the nation is already confused. California conservatives are waging legal battles to undo the recent gout of gay unions in San Francisco; Nebraska's defense-of-marriage law is currently tied up in court; and mayors in Minnesota, Illinois, New York, and Utah have said they would issue same-sex marriage licenses if they could. For many traditional-marriage supporters, the fracas in the states is the best argument for amending the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Federal Marriage Amendments (FMA) now inching through the House and Senate would define marriage along traditional lines. But legal experts say neither would prevent states from sanctioning marriage-equivalent relationships, such as civil unions. Even so, both FMAs are in trouble.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an FMA supporter, is doubtful the measure will attract the necessary support in the Senate, says aide Don Stewart. "Unless there is a federal court case or another state court [sanctions gay marriage], it will be nearly impossible to get the 67 votes we need to pass the amendment." Supportive House staffers also predict a simple majority vote, but not the two-thirds margin required (290 in the House) to approve a constitutional amendment.

The shortage may be the result of a three-pronged anti-FMA push. First, some conservative lawmakers, including Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, oppose the measures. Second, gay-rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign are capitalizing on that fact, quoting Sen. Hagel and former Georgia congressman Bob Barr in an ad campaign aimed at eroding FMA support among conservative voters in an election year. Third, some Democrats have been busy demonizing pro-FMA lawmakers, tarring them as Bush cronies and bigots.

"We've had Democrats coming to our hearings just to bash that we're doing anything at all," said Cornyn aide Mr. Stewart. That may change among Democratic fence-riders, he added, if gay activists prevail in the Nebraska and California litigation, clearing the way for same-sex unions in those states. "For some people, this issue just hasn't hit home yet. They don't understand the nature of the peril."

Massachusetts conservatives understand it only too well. As May 17 approaches, bearing the possibility of same-sex wedding bells, a mixed mood hangs over pro-family activists in the state. "There is disappointment ... , but those of us who are people of faith remain optimistic, because God is still on the throne," said Ron Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. "It's not a time to give up, but to look and see what God may be doing through this."

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