2 min

Canadians cheer US decision

Massachusetts court pushes marriage

Despite words of protest from Republican governor Mitt Romney and President George W Bush, Massachusetts looks like it could become the first US state to permit same-sex marriage. The court decision has Canadian activists excited.

“This decision affirms what Canadian courts have been saying,” says Laurie Arron, political coordinator of the lobby group Canadians For Equal Marriage. He points out that the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision uses the same language used by Canadian courts.

“We declare that barring an individual from the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage solely because that person would marry a person of the same sex violates the Massachusetts Constitution,” wrote Chief Justice Margaret H Marshall. The court had been hearing a case brought against the Department Of Public Health by seven same-sex couples seeking marriage recognition under state law.

The court, in a 4-3 vote, gave the state legislature 180 days to make the changes necessary to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. It’s unclear whether the state will allow marriage per se or set up a separate civil union system that might mirror the system in Vermont.

Equal marriage advocates in both the US and Canada expressed optimism over the decision.

“I think hanging a banner, ‘Mission accomplished,’ would be as premature as it has been for some others who have tried to do that,” says Evan Wolfson, executive director of the US-based Freedom To Marry advocacy group. “But certainly there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”

Wolfson predicts that despite growing resistance from the right, same-sex marriage will eventually win the protection of the American constitution.

Governor Romney, a Republican and opponent of same-sex marriage, said he will cooperate with the court’s ruling but also vowed to bring forward legislation to try to stop same-sex marriage down the road. According to state law, any such legislation would have to wait until 2006.

“I agree with 3,000 years of recorded history,” Romney told reporters after the court’s decision became public. “Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman…. Our constitution and laws should reflect that.”

George W has said many times that marriage should remain a heterosexual institution.

“Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and my administration is working to support the institution of marriage by helping couples build successful marriages and be good parents,” wrote Bush in a proclamation declaring Oct 12 through 18 Marriage Protection Week.

The Massachusetts decision, following on similar court rulings in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, has given marriage activists a sense of momentum. Though US pollsters are finding evidence of a backlash there – the percentage of people opposed to same-sex marriage has increased in the wake of the ruling – Canadian activists hope it will buoy support here.

“Many of the opponents to equal marriage in [Canada’s] Parliament have said that our judges have gone where they shouldn’t have gone, and that their judgments are not good judgments,” says Arron. “What this shows is the fact that excluding us from marriage is discrimination, and that this is clear not only in this country, but in the US as well.”

The Supreme Court Of Canada is expected to make a reference on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage this spring, with a free parliamentary vote to follow.