National Edition

Same-sex marriage creates uncertainties decade after Massachusetts implementation

Published: Saturday, May 17 2014 4:00 a.m. MDT

In this May 20, 2004 file photo, Suzanne Nightingale, 49, left, and Kathleen Clementson, 62, of Cape Coral, Fla., display their rings at their wedding ceremony on Saint's Landing Beach in Brewster, Mass. during the first week of state-sanctioned gay marriage in America. Its been a decade since the highest court in Massachusetts issued its landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage by declaring that barring marriage for gay couples is unconstitutional. Since then, 14 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, with Illinois posed to become the 16th state next week when the governor is expected to sign a gay marriage bill into law.

Elise Amendola, Associated Press

Ten years after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, supporters are praising a new definition of marriage equality and opponents are dreading a further erosion of the institution's traditional definition and a raft of unknown consequences.

It was May 17, 2004, that the first marriage licenses for same-sex couples were issued in the United States following landmark legal decision by the Bay State's high court. The event began a gradual movement toward legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, either through legislation or court rulings.

While 33 states still have bans against gay marriage — many of which are under legal challenges — legalizing same-sex unions has occurred through court rulings in five states, by statute in eight states and the District of Columbia, and by voter referendum in three states. Ten of those states legalized same-sex marriage in the past two years.

At the same time some prominent public opinion polls show a majority of Americans now express support for same-sex marriage, a marked shift in public opinion from 2001, when the Pew Research Center found 57 percent of Americans opposed to same-sex marriage and 35 percent were in favor.

All this is cause for celebration for longtime advocates such as Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, an organization that supports same-sex marriage.

"We are now celebrating 10 years of families helped and no one hurt," he said. "The gays have not used up all the marriage licenses; there's enough marriage to share."

But for opponents the damage of legalizing gay marriage is more than a paper shortage or legal procedure. Unless lawmakers carve out broad protections for those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, they see the trend of current court ruling favoring gay marriage as an erosion of freedom of expression and conscience rights.

"If same-sex marriage is established in law, it will be increasingly difficult for anyone who holds to the traditional view of conjugal marriage to maintain a witness to that truth under such a decision," said Matthew Franck, director of the Witherspoon Institute's Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution in Princeton, New Jersey. "Church-run schools, employers, adoption agencies, child-service agencies run by religious organizations — all of these institutions and private concerns will be adversely affected."

Bay State revolution

The same-sex marriage tide first turned in Massachusetts, the state that gave birth to the American Revolution more than 200 years earlier. On Nov. 18, 2003, Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court decided in favor of same-sex marriage in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, saying 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."

The justices gave legislators 180 days to change the law, and when the solons didn't, same-sex marriage was permitted. At 12:01 a.m. May 18, 2004, the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, became the first in the state and the nation, to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

According to the Cambridge Chronicle & Tab newspaper, 10,000 people "looking to be a part of history" lined Massachusetts Avenue there to witness the event.

"It was a massive mistake and a betrayal when the Supreme Judicial Court foisted same-sex marriage on the people of Massachusetts, and it remains so today," lamented Brian J. Brown, head of the National Organization for Marriage, which supports the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

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