Mass. same-sex 'marriage' ruling could impact 2004 election

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Election Day may be one year away, but the ruling by Massachusetts' highest court Nov. 17 legalizing same-sex "marriage" is sure to have political fallout.

President Bush, along with five of the major Democratic presidential candidates, announced their opposition to same-sex "marriage" following the court ruling.

But the similarities may end there.

Although it has yet to occur, Bush and the eventual Democratic nominee may differ on what response -- if any -- is needed.

"I see this becoming probably the largest domestic issue that will be addressed in this election cycle -- if the economy continues to improve," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Baptist Press.

Conservatives are pushing for a constitutional amendment protecting the traditional definition of marriage, and one such effort -- the Federal Marriage Amendment -- already has some 100 cosponsors in the House of Representatives. If passed, it would trump the Massachusetts ruling as well as any other such ruling by a court. To become law it would require passage by two-thirds of the House and Senate and three-quarters of the states.

All of the Democrat candidates, in response to questionnaires from homosexual activist groups, had announced their opposition to an amendment prior to the Massachusetts ruling. And after the ruling, Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt said in separate but similar statements that efforts to amend the constitution come from the "right wing."

While Bush has yet to announce his support for an amendment, he is believed to be considering one.

"You have a radical minority teamed up with judicial activists who are imposing this social policy contrary to both history and tradition," Perkins said. "That comes at a time when we are going into a nationwide election cycle."

Bush was out of the country when the ruling was released, but he did issue a statement opposing it.

"Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman," the president's statement read. "Today's decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court violates this important principle. I will work with congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage."

Conservatives hope the statement means that Bush eventually will support an amendment.

Perkins said a constitutional amendment "will be a dividing line between those who are serious about protecting marriage as it has been traditionally and historically known and those who want to pander to the homosexuals."

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press this summer that the issue of same-sex "marriage" has galvanized Christian voters to levels previously unseen. Perkins agreed.

"This, more than any other issue that we've seen -- even the abortion issue -- has the potential to reach into the Christian community and propel them into action in the political arena," Perkins said.

"This is no longer something that is happening down the street. Eighty percent of marriages are performed in churches. As we see this unfolding in Canada, it's not far-fetched to say that ministers would have a hard time refusing to marry a homosexual couple ... without being charged of some kind of violation of civil rights."

A Pew Research poll released Nov. 18 found that 59 percent of Americans oppose same-sex "marriage." Additionally, three major polls this year have shown support for a constitutional amendment to be anywhere from 54-58 percent.

The New York Times' Adam Nagourney asserted Nov. 19 that the Massachusetts ruling creates challenges for both parties, but more so for Democrats.

It is increasing likely "that next year's presidential contest will be fought, at least in part, on the kind of cultural issues that have repeatedly put [Democrats] at a disadvantage over the last 20 years," Nagourney wrote.

"This is going to be an issue next year because Bush wants to make it an issue," an aide to an unidentified Democrat candidate told Nagourney. "I have a feeling this is going to come up again and again."

Following are the statements issued by the leading Democrat candidates after the Massachusetts court ruling:

-- Wesley Clark:

"As a society we should be looking for ways to bring us together and as someone who supports the legal rights of all Americans regardless of sexual-orientation, I appreciate today's decision. As President, I would support giving gays and lesbians the legal rights that married couples get.

"If the Massachusetts legislature decides to legalize same-sex marriages, it will be up to each state to decide whether those marriages will be valid in their state -- and that is a choice each state, not the courts, will have to make.

"My hope is that disagreements over this issue can be handled with tolerance and understanding."

-- Howard Dean:

"As Governor of Vermont, I was proud to sign the nation's first law establishing civil unions for same-sex couples. Today, the Massachusetts Court appears to have taken a similar approach to the Vermont Supreme Court and its decision that led to our civil unions law. One way or another, the state should afford same-sex couples equal treatment under law in areas such as health insurance, hospital visitation and inheritance rights.

"There will be those who try to use the decision today to divide Americans. Instead, this decision should be viewed as an opportunity to affirm what binds us together -- a fundamental belief in the equality of human beings, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation."

-- John Edwards:

"As I have long said, I believe gay and lesbian Americans are entitled to equal respect and dignity under our laws. While I personally do not support gay marriage, I recognize that different states will address this in different ways, and I will oppose any effort to pass an amendment to the United States Constitution in response to the Massachusetts decision.

"We are a nation comprised of men and women from all walks of life. It is in our national character to provide equal opportunity to all, and this is what unites our country, in laws and in shared purpose. That is why today, we must also reach out to those individuals who will try to exploit this decision to further divide our nation, and ask them to refrain from that effort."

-- Dick Gephardt:

"While I support civil unions for same-sex couples, I also support the right of states to make decisions regarding the protections afforded same-sex couples. I do not support gay marriage, but I hope the Massachusetts State Legislature will act in a manner that is consistent with today's Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling.

"As we move forward, it is my hope that we don't get side-tracked by the right-wing into a debate over a phony constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. I strongly oppose such an effort as purely political and unnecessarily divisive at the expense of those who already suffer from discrimination."

-- John Kerry:

"I have long believed that gay men and lesbians should be assured equal protection and the same benefits -- from health to survivor benefits to hospital visitation -- that all families deserve. While I continue to oppose gay marriage, I believe that today's decision calls on the Massachusetts state legislature to take action to ensure equal protection for gay couples. These protections are long over due."

-- Joe Lieberman:

"Although I am opposed to gay marriage, I have also long believed that states have the right to adopt for themselves laws that allow same-sex unions. I will oppose any attempts by the right wing to change the Constitution in response to today's ruling, which would be unnecessary and divisive."


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