ACLU Praises Massachusetts for Being First to Legally Marry Same-Sex Couples

May 17, 2004 12:00 am

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Historic Decision by State’s High Court Signals New Era in Civil Rights, ACLU Chief Says

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today praised the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for becoming the first state in U.S. history to allow lesbian and gay couples to legally marry.

“By ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, Massachusetts has begun a new chapter in civil rights history,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “These ceremonies mark a giant step forward and they are sure to make the celebrations of the many lesbian and gay couples who marry all the sweeter.”

The marriages today mark a happy ending to the six-month waiting period imposed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court after it ruled that the state could no longer exclude same-sex couples from marriage. This decision was a lightning rod in the debate over exclusion across the nation. In response to the decision, leaders in San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, New Paltz, New York, and elsewhere began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. President Bush then called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would prevent states from marrying same-sex couples and prevent state courts from ruling that same-sex couples must be treated equally under the law.

“Despite the promises of equality and freedom in our Constitution, civil rights struggles are never easy, and the struggle for equality for lesbians and gay men is no different,” Romero noted. “Women could not legally vote until 1920 and remain far from equal in the workplace today. Many of those who spoke out against World War I were arrested and jailed for it. Today, we still hear it said that disagreement is disloyal.”

“Every group of Americans who has been treated unfairly has faced unique challenges, and no two kinds of discrimination are ever the same,” Romero continued. “But it is important not to forget the lessons of history. Our civil rights history shows us that the opponents of freedom frequently try to enshrine discrimination in the law, usually insisting that the group they want to fence out is less worthy because its members are morally inferior. That indeed was the justification for laws that kept women out of the voting booth and out of the workplace. That indeed was the justification for jailing dissidents. And that indeed was the justification for racial segregation.”

Noting that today is, coincidentally, the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision rejecting the “separate but equal” doctrine for black children in public schools, Romero concluded: “We must take heed of our civil rights history. We must fight any attempt to write discrimination into our Constitution and reject proposed state laws that make some Americans unequal. We must fight to ensure for all same-sex couples the legal protection of marriage, not just in Massachusetts, but everywhere.”

According to the ACLU, many of the tactics employed by opponents to marriage equality were also used in earlier civil rights struggles. Judges have been demonized for standing up for gender and racial equality. Similarly, there have been earlier attempts to write discrimination into our constitution, often justified by excuse that its “God’s law.”

The challenge to the Massachusetts law that resulted in marriage equality for same-sex couples was brought by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). The ACLU supported the litigation through friend-of-the-court briefs throughout the lawsuit.

The ACLU has published a guide for same-sex couples titled “Thinking About Getting Married in Massachusetts?” that is available online at /getequal/rela/massachusetts.html

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