TOPICS > Politics

Gay Marriage in Massachusetts

July 11, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JULIE GOODRIDGE Are you ready?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Hillary and Julie Goodridge have been together 16 years. The lesbian couple wanted to share the same last name so several years ago they legally changed it. In 1995, Julie was artificially inseminated and delivered their daughter Annie, now seven. So the Goodridges are a family in most all traditional ways except one: They are unable to legally marry, which they say is unfair.

JULIE GOODRIDGE: Because if I drop dead in the living room for example, Hillary has no right to have my body removed, regardless of the fact that she’s my power of attorney and durable power of attorney. She has no right over my body.

HILLARY GOODRIDGE: For example, we are not considered kin to each other. We are not consider spouses. If either of us dies, becomes disabled, all things mostly that happen when you’re older or things none of us want to think about, disability, death, bad things, accidents. It’s in those times that you realize, I have no relationship to this person. If Julie were to die, it is possible would I have to sell the house because I would have to pay tax on the inheritance, which most spouses would not have to do and we have a child to protect, to consider too. So certainly raising Annie has brought all of this to the fore in a protective way for me that I never considered before.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Last year, the Goodridges joined six other gay or lesbian couples and sued the state of Massachusetts. They claimed they were being discriminated against, being denied equal protection guaranteed under the state’s constitution because the state did not allow them to get a marriage license. A decision in their case is expected any day.

This comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision just weeks ago that invalidated a Texas law that made sodomy a crime. Harvard Law Professor Martha Minow says that doesn’t automatically mean the next step is to legalize gay marriage, but she says courts are starting to show more acceptance of gay rights issues.

MARTHA MINOW, Harvard Law School: When the United States Supreme Court struck down the sodomy law this past month and said that this actually violates liberty, that is a recognition that we must tolerate practices that are performed privately by free individuals who are consenting. That, I think, is a first step in a free country toward what ultimately, I think will be equality, equal treatment.

It is true, as some commentators indicate, there is a difference between tolerance and equality. But I think the next step, once people start to realize these are people just like us. They’re our neighbors, sending their kids to school. We are not allowed by law to discriminate against them, and in fact we see that they deserve the same kind of treatment in the country as everybody else.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: That’s just what worries Ron Crews. He’s a former minister and director of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a Christian conservative interest group. Crews says if gay marriage is permitted, it could lead to other more disturbing types of relationships.

RON CREWS, Massachusetts Family Institute: A word means a what it means. Marriage means the union of a man and a woman, and if that definition was changed, it’s no longer marriage as far as I’m concerned. If they are successful in redefining marriage between a male and a female, then is the next step to redefine marriage to three people or four or what? What is the ultimate goal, and by what standard do either judges or legislators decide this word is going to be defined? How are they going to define this word?

BETTY ANN BOWSER: The Catholic Church has joined Crews’ group in opposition to the Goodridge case. It filed a brief maintaining that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Catholic Conference Associate Policy Director Dan Avila also argues that gay and lesbian couples are not being denied equal protection under the law.

DAN AVILA, Massachusetts Catholic Conference: When we talk of people who are not able to be married, we don’t normally think of them as being demeaned. For example, a brother and a sister cannot get married. A grandparent and a grandchild cannot get married. Does that mean that we are sending the message that they are less than equal? That they are somehow as individuals not human beings with dignity? No, we don’t normally make that equation.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Claire Humphrey and Vickie Henry aren’t waiting for arguments like that to be settled in the United States. The Boston couple has been together for nine years. In 1998 on the 4th of July, they had a religious marriage ceremony in Wellesley, complete with a minister and bridesmaids. But they have been unable to be legally married. After being artificially inseminated, Vickie gave birth to their daughter Lucy, 22 months ago.

Now they are expecting a son, and in two weeks they’re going to Canada. That’s because last month, the province of Ontario threw out a law that banned gay marriage. The province of British Columbia quickly followed suit. So Humphrey and Henry are getting married again, this time legally.

VICKIE HENRY: We are going to have a baby in a couple of months and there are always risks, although we hope everything will turn out, just fine with that. We want to put as many protections in place as we feel like we can.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: And they say if they were married, Humphrey would not have to go through a complicated adoption process like she did after Lucy was born.

CLAIRE HUMPHREY: I had to wait five months before I had any legal relationship to her, even though I’m her primary caretaker, until it came up on the court calendar. And that got pretty frightening because there was a time when Vicki was 3,000 miles away on a business trip, and as infants do, Lucy came down, out of nowhere, with a 103 fever. She was tiny. And I’m racing around the house trying to get to the pediatrician. And I had to go back and hope that the paperwork that I had was enough that I would be able to help her. I have never felt so helpless in my life, so inadequate in my life.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But it’s not clear whether a Canadian marriage license would be recognized in the United States. Still, conservatives are worried that courts are now engaging in judicial activism with gay marriage, and they want to curtail some of that authority.

RON CREWS: I do believe that there’s going to be a growing movement of folks that says, “Wait a minute. We didn’t elect these judges to make laws.” Our system says that they’re to interpret, not make laws. And these actions have been exceeding the bounds that we believe they have the constitutional responsibility for.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: Crews and others are trying to get the Massachusetts legislature to pass an amendment to the state’s constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It would be similar to so-called “Defense of Marriage Acts” passed by 37 other states. But whether that happens or not, Harvard’s Minow says the issue of gay marriage will likely become the next major civil rights battleground facing America.

MARTHA MINOW: Family law has many functions, but the most important function is to reflect and guide the way people actually live. And if the law has no relationship to the way people are actually living, it will be ignored. This is a worldwide phenomenon. There is a growth of freedom and an exercise of freedom by people to choose how to live and with whom to be intimate, and if people are living in an intimate relationship, the law has to eventually come to recognize that.

BETTY ANN BOWSER: But couples like the Goodridges are concerned. They know conservative lawmakers in Washington have started a movement to pass a constitutional amendment that would make heterosexual marriage the law of the land.