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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
December 2, 2005

Marriage battles are jeopardizing partner unions

The well-known mantra of anti-gay activists in their efforts to ban same-sex marriage is that gay couples must be prohibited from marrying in order to �protect the institution of marriage.� They never explain how gay marriage endangers the �institution of marriage� and are rarely pressed by the media to explain.

But many of the campaigns against gay marriage are expanding well beyond marriage and are seeking to ban legal recognition or equal benefits for any form of relationship between same-sex partners.

Even though a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts needed only one more vote in the legislature to reach the ballot next year, anti-gay activists in that state essentially abandoned it this year to seek one that would also ban civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The more limited measure failed, in part, because many legislators had changed their minds about the need for the measure to begin with. But it also failed because a significant number of supporters wanted to hold out for the more comprehensive ban. Last week, a coalition of groups announced it has gathered almost twice the number of signatures they need to put a more comprehensive ban on the ballot in 2008.

In California, the VoteYesMarriage group which is promoting one of several marriage ban ballot measures criticizes another group�s measure for not including language that would ban marriage and �rights, incidents, or benefits of marriage.� The additional language, says VoteYesMarriage, is needed to prevent the government and the courts from giving legal recognition to domestic partnerships and other relationships. Without it, says the group, a measure might �even allow a future legislature to someday abolish the legal institution of marriage in the name of �equality,� �non-discrimination,� and �tolerance for all.��

The Wisconsin legislature, which is poised to give its second and final approval this session to a constitutional ban, held a public hearing on the measure this week. In barring recognition of marriage, the measure also denies recognition of relationships "identical or substantially similar" marriage.

In Illinois, an anti-gay group called Protect Marriage Illinois is circulating petitions to put an �advisory� initiative on next November�s ballot to encourage the legislature to put a binding measure on the ballot to ban legal recognition of gay marriages and other forms of relationships through a state constitutional amendment.

In Ohio, where a more comprehensive constitutional ban was adopted by voters last year, a proponent of the measure promised it would not take away the health insurance from the domestic partners of state university employees. But that proponent is now pressing a lawsuit against Miami University to use the constitutional amendment to do exactly that. [Story here.]

E.J. Graff, a resident scholar at Brandeis Women�s Studies Research Center in Boston, says anti-gay activists are deliberately misrepresenting their ballot measures to voters.

Here�s what they�ll tell you when they�re trying to persuade voters to pass a one-man-one-woman marriage amendment: The amendment will merely put velvet ropes around the word marriage. It won�t be mean; it won�t deprive lesbian and gay couples of job benefits; it won�t close the door to other protections for same-sex couples and their families,� writes Graff. �But once the amendment passes, those same proponents will shout that any recognition whatsoever of a same-sex couple is an incursion into that sacred territory, marriage.�

Not surprisingly, these results are being challenged in court.

In Alaska, where voters approved a seemingly limited constitutional amendment in 1998 saying that, �To be valid or recognized in this State, a marriage may exist only between one man and one woman,� the amendment has been used to deny benefits to the domestic partners of same-sex employees of the state.

The Supreme Court of Alaska ruled October 28, in ACLU v. Anchorage, that the refusal of the state to provide the same benefits to the domestic partners of gay public employees as it provides to the spouses of married public employees violates the state constitution�s guarantee of �equal rights, opportunities and protection under the law.�

In reaching its unanimous decision, it noted that the supreme court in Massachusetts gave the legislature 180 days to prepare for enforcement of its marriage decision. The Alaska court said it would delay enforcement of its decision until it can hear arguments on how best to remedy the disparate treatment.

It�s been two years since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued that landmark marriage ruling, in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, saying that the state constitution�s guarantee of equality meant gay couples should be treated equally with heterosexual couples when it comes to marriage licensing.

Since its enforcement began on May 17, 2004, the state has issued more than 6,500 marriage licenses to same-sex couples. So far, no effort has been made by anti-gay activists to invalidate those marriages.

But the war over same-sex marriage in Massachusetts illustrates how long the battle continues, even after the right to marry has been won in the courts, and how those battles are jeopardizing relationship benefits beyond those inherent through marriage and spilling into every arena.

The VoteOnMarriage coalition in Massachusetts says it will, on December 7, turn in 120,000 signatures--almost twice the number required--to put a constitutional ban on the ballot in 2008. The gay legal group which won the initial marriage victory in Massachusetts announced at the same time that it will file a lawsuit to stop the measure from reaching the ballot.

The archbishop of Boston announced last week that he will not attend a Catholic Charities fundraiser to honor the mayor of Boston because the mayor supports equal rights for same-sex couples.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney features his opposition to gay marriage prominently in his campaign to woo early support for a Republican presidential bid, and a group of state legislators is pressing a bill to require the state�s Medicaid program to treat gay couples equally. While the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, prevents the state from using state Medicaid dollars for same-sex couples, the bill would direct Massachusetts to treat them equally in the disbursement of state Medicaid dollars.

More troublesome on the federal front, of course, are the continuing efforts by Republicans in Congress to pass an amendment to the federal constitution to ban any federal recognition of same-sex marriage or relationships. The proposal, called the Marriage Protection Act, seeks to remove the constitutionality of DOMA from any court�s review.

A similar proposal failed in its first outing in the Senate last year, but passed in the House. It�s back this year and has cleared a Senate subcommittee. It could come up before the Judiciary Committee in December but will most likely be voted on in January.



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