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Right targets gay marriage
Stop the bigots!

By Eric Ruder and Bill Keach | February 13, 2004 | Page 12

THE RIGHT wing is trying to whip up anti-gay hysteria after another legal victory for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a second ruling that underlined its decision last November ordering the state government to allow full marriage rights and benefits for gay and lesbian couples.

This time, the court ruled that "civil unions," such as those permitted in neighboring Vermont, were not an acceptable substitute for marriage. "The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal," the court's Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote in an opinion. "For no rational reason, the marriage laws of the commonwealth discriminate against a defined class; no amount of tinkering with language will eradicate that stain."

In response, the Catholic Church and other anti-gay organizations held a 2,000-strong protest on the Boston Common last Sunday. "Good strong marriage and family are good for our country, for society," Archbishop Sean O'Malley told the crowd.

But the bigots didn't go unopposed. A spontaneous counter-demonstration of 500 broke out across the street. Pro-gay marriage demonstrators chanted, "Civil marriage is a civil right" and "Gay and straight together." This was another sign of the high level of support for gay marriage rights in Massachusetts.

As Socialist Worker went to press, Massachusetts legislators were holding a special session to consider an amendment to the state constitution--proposed by a Democrat--to ban gay marriages. If half of the 200 legislators approve the amendment, the next legislature would have to pass the measure as well--before sending the issue to a statewide referendum. So the earliest that a constitutional amendment could be passed would be 2006.

But this doesn't change the urgent situation facing defenders of gay rights. Already, the federal government and 38 states have passed laws barring same-sex marriage. More than a dozen are considering constitutional bans on gay marriage.

In Massachusetts, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney and House Speaker Thomas Finneran--a Democrat--are each looking for any possible legal means to keep the first gay marriages from being performed in May, under the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision. Meanwhile, Boston's Catholic Church has ordered direct mailings to 1 million households and plans to lobby every legislator to call for a ban on gay marriage.

Add to this George W. Bush's fervent support for federal measures against gay marriage--including an amendment to the U.S. Constitution--and it's clear that we have to act now to push back against the right-wing offensive. In his State of the Union address, Bush signaled that he plans on using the anti-gay marriage hysteria to build support for his re-election campaign.

Yet John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, responded by agreeing with Bush's opposition to gay marriage. "I personally believe the court [ruling in favor of gay marriage] is not right," said Kerry, who supports civil unions instead. "I don't support gay marriage. I never have. That's my position."

Pressed by reporters, Kerry emphasized that he does agree with one member of the Bush administration: Dick Cheney! "If they want to choose some kind of wedge sort of issue and distort my position, I will fight back very clearly," Kerry told reporters in Maine. "They ought to talk to Dick Cheney--their own vice president--before starting to play games with this, and we'll find out just how political and how craven they are. Vice President Cheney has the same position I do."

Kerry's defenders point to his vote against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)--supported and signed by Bill Clinton--that denied federal marriage benefits to gays and lesbians to "prove" that Kerry actually supports gay rights. But Kerry's argument against DOMA was thoroughly reactionary, claiming that gay marriage is a matter of "states' rights"--the same argument used by Southern segregationists to resist federal pressure to end the policy of legalized discrimination against African Americans.

We can't rely on Democratic "friends" like Kerry to stand up for basic equality--a bitter lesson learned by the civil rights movement in the 1960s. We have to look to grassroots organizations and struggles to stand up to the right-wing agenda.

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