The Massachusetts suit seeks a declaration from the courts that the state constitution requires that same-sex couples be treated equally as traditional male-female couples when it comes to marriage.
To date, only Vermont gives gays all the rights and protections enjoyed by married heterosexual couples. Vermont, however, does not call such legal gay relationships "marriages," but "civil unions."
In the first three months since the law went into effect last summer, more than 800 civil unions were registered by the Health Department in Vermont, three-quarters of them from out of state.
Last March, almost a year after Vermont approved civil unions, the state House voted to outlaw gay marriage. The Senate, however, was not expected to support the measure. Backers said the bill was necessary to make it clear that under Vermont law, marriage was not between two men or two women.
Backers of the Massachusetts suit say the term civil unions does not go far enough for them, and they want their unions to be recognized as legal marriages.
It appears California will be the next big battlefront on the same-sex marriage issue. Advocates there this summer will be seeking a million signatures to put a proposed amendment to the California Constitution before the voters on the November 2002 ballot.
If approved by voters, the Same-Sex Marriage Initiative would make California the first state in the nation to allow two people of the same sex to lawfully marry.
In proposing a civil union-type measure in California, Democrat state Assemblyman Paul Koretz told the San Francisco Chronicle that all couples "deserve legal recognition of their relationships and families, the same as my wife and I had when we committed ourselves to each other 16 years ago."
Republican Sen. William "Pete" Knight said Koretz's proposal would violate Proposition 22, passed by voters last fall, that bans marriage between couples of the same sex.
"It appears Assemblyman Koretz is trying to circumvent Proposition 22," Knight told the Chronicle. "It may be illegal. If that doesn't undermine marriage, I don't know what does."
The blockbuster issue gained national headlines several years ago when a court in Hawaii ruled that denying homosexuals the right to marry violated the Hawaii Constitution. The Hawaii Legislature subsequently proposed a constitutional amendment reversing that ruling. The issue was particularly contentious because, under normal circumstances, other states must recognize a marriage if it is legal in the state in which it was performed.
Opponents of same-sex marriage applauded the state Supreme Court ruling that bars gay couples from getting marriage licenses in Hawaii, but proponents say battles over the emotional issue are not over, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
The left-wing group National Organization for Women says dozens of states have enacted laws against homosexual marriage. NOW attributes the "attacks" to "the radical right." The organization claims "radical extremists" use the issue to divide the country and target homosexuals for discrimination.
Despite public sentiment against such marriages, many companies and local governments recognize such relationships and provide some benefits to committed gay couples, or domestic partners.
Bill Clinton signed a law in 1996 that defined marriage as the legal union between "one man and one woman." The law prevents same-sex couples from receiving survivor and pension benefits, tax breaks and other advantages married couples receive, and authorizes states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Some states have already acted to bar same-sex unions.
Nebraska and Nevada last fall passed initiatives providing that only marriages between a man and a woman will be recognized in those states.
In Maine last fall, voters narrowly rejected a ballot question that would guarantee basic marriage rights to homosexuals as enjoyed by other citizens.
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