MARGARET WARNER: Spencer Michels begins our report on the hot debate over permitting gay marriage.
SPENCER MICHELS: In last two months, a flurry of activity in North American courtrooms and political arenas has raised anew the debate over the legal status of same-sex couples. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law against sodomy on grounds it violated personal liberty. In early June, an appeals court in Ontario, Canada, struck down a law defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The province then started issuing same-sex marriage certificates, and British Columbia followed suit soon after. That prompted some American couples to travel to Canada to get married.
SPOKESPERSON: Are you ready?
SPENCER MICHELS: Right now in Massachusetts, the state supreme court is considering whether Hillary and Julie Goodridge and six other same-sex couples can be legally married. The two women, who have been together for 16 years and have a daughter, cannot get a state marriage license. They sued Massachusetts, saying it denied them equal protection under the state constitution.
HILLARY GOODRIDGE: We are not considered kin to each other. We are not considered spouses. If Julie were to die, it is possible I would have to sell the house because I would have to pay tax on the inheritance, which most spouses would not have to do.
SPENCER MICHELS: Marriage licenses are granted by the states. None provides licenses to gay and lesbian couples, though Vermont has allowed what's called civil unions for the past three years. Under the law, signed by then- governor and now presidential candidate Howard Dean, same-sex partners qualify for the same state benefits and tax advantages given to heterosexual couples. At the federal level, gay marriages are not recognized either. That's a provision of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act signed by President Clinton. But last month, after the Supreme Court sodomy ruling, Senate Republican leader Bill Frist advocated going further: He called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. President Bush has not specifically backed an amendment, but he made his general views clear yesterday.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think it's very important for our society to respect each individual, to welcome those with good hearts, to be a welcoming country. On the other hand, that does not mean that somebody like me needs to compromise on an issue such as marriage. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman, and I think we ought to codify that one way or the other, and we've got lawyers looking at the best way to do that.
SPENCER MICHELS: Today the Vatican weighed in as well. In a document approved by Pope John Paul II, it said "homosexual acts go against the natural moral law." Meanwhile, the American public has given mixed signals, according to recent polls. One from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press indicates support for gay marriage has grown from 27 percent in 1996, to 38 percent today. A shorter-term, Gallup poll provides a contrast. In May, 60 percent of respondents said "homosexual relations between consenting adults" should be legal. Two months later, support fell to 48 percent.