By Lisa Keen
BOSTON – 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 that measure this year to seek one that would ban marriages, 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. And 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 ballot measures in California, criticizes a measure promoted by another group 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 banning recognition of marriage, the measure also bans recognition of relationships “identical or substantially similar” to 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 initiative 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, notes the Insurance Journal this week, that proponent is now pressing a lawsuit to use the constitutional amendment to do exactly that.
E.J. Graff, a resident scholar at Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center, 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 Oct. 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 the decision and the Alaska court said it would delay enforcement of its decision until it can hear arguments on how best to remedy the disparate treatment.
A similar suit is currently pending in Michigan as well.
It’s been two years since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued that landmark marriage, 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 Dec. 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 that 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.
More troublesome on the federal front, of course, is the continuing efforts by Republicans in Congress to pass an amendment to the federal constitution to protect its statutory ban on any federal recognition of same-sex marriage or relationships through DOMA. The Federal Marriage Act, which sought to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage at the federal or state level, failed in the House and Senate in 2004. This year, Republicans have proposed the Marriage Protection Act, which seeks a statutory change to remove from the jurisdiction of any court’s review the constitutionality of DOMA. 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.