A conservative ruling on gay marriage
THE MASSACHUSETTS Supreme Judicial Court decision declaring a constitutional right of all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, to access civil marriage licenses was undeniably bold and historic. More significantly, the power and clarity of the decision stems from the fundamentally conservative and family-values based arguments offered by the state's highest court. Yes, a majority of justices, nearly all appointed by Republican governors, used traditional values and conservative principles to make a compelling case to end discrimination against gay and lesbian families. The opponents of basic fairness for all Massachusetts families are left arguing against stable relationships, against increased protection for all children, against limited government, against individual liberty, and against religious freedom.
The court argues that exclusive unions, recognized by a civil marriage license, will provide greater family stability and a more ordered society. Self-proclaimed profamily groups should be embracing stable relationships not encouraging transient ones.
Today, thousands of children are being raised by loving same-sex couples from Boston to the Berkshires. The court rightfully notes that these children should not be penalized or deprived benefits and protections because of their parents' sexual orientation. Prochildren conservatives should support security for all Massachusetts children without exception.
In a nod to limited government, the court recognizes that civil marriage will ensure "children and adults are cared for and supported whenever possible from private rather than public funds." Antitax conservatives should applaud the "weighty legal, financial, and social obligations" that come with civil marriage.
And the court echoes the conservative libertarian philosophy of civil marriage proponent Governor William Weld. Conservative believers in individual liberty and personal autonomy should allow citizens to freely choose a life partner whether gay or straight.
An extremely critical component of the SJC ruling is the absolute distinction made between granting a civil marriage license versus ceremonies recognizing religious marriage. The state granting a license to a committed couple is entirely separate from existing religious ceremonies and traditions. Granting civil marriage licenses to tax paying, law-abiding gay couples in no way interferes with or threatens the sanctity of traditional marriage. Religious conservatives might consider banishing divorce and infidelity, not gay couples, in order to protect the sanctity of traditional religious marriage.
Some have tried to question the clarity of the court's ruling. Yet, no law degree is necessary to understand the court's firm call to end the less than equal treatment of gays and lesbians in committed relationships. The court finds 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."
Some opponents are critical of a runaway court for imposing a radical new value system on an unsuspecting public. This argument flies in the face of reliable polls indicating majority support for the decision. The citizens of Massachusetts are fair-minded not radical.
Others say providing fairness to gay and lesbian families is a task for the Legislature not the court. Proponents of this argument should be reminded that the court only acted after the Legislature repeatedly failed to act on more incremental and politically palatable legislation. Civil rights organizations and legislators, including myself, have filed domestic partnership and civil union legislation year after year to no avail.
Regardless, the courts are charged with ensuring constitutional fairness. In this case, the justices acted within their discretion, their duty, and their obligation to make sure the Massachusetts Constitution equally protects every citizen of the state.
Supporters of civil marriage for gays and lesbians should be more respectful of the deeply held personal beliefs that underscore the current opinions of our legislative leaders and governor. This debate is new for everyone. It is complex and has political, legal, and societal implications beyond Massachusetts. At the same time the Legislature and governor should respect the unambiguous directive from the court to allow for civil marriage licenses for all citizens of the Commonwealth within 180 days.
Divisive efforts to amend the state Constitution in 2006 should be opposed by Republican and Democratic public officials. The Massachusetts Constitution, like the United States Constitution, should be used to protect liberty and ensure fairness. It should never be used to marginalize a segment of the American family.
The citizens of our great Commonwealth may even conclude that after embracing civil marriage fairness for all citizens we will actually be a more stable, more welcoming and more conservative home for all Massachusetts families.
Patrick Guerriero, a former Massachusetts state representative and mayor of Melrose, is executive director of Log Cabin Republicans.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.