NEW YORK -- Last week's ruling by Massachusetts' highest court striking down a ban against gay marriages has energized efforts across the country to extend many of the protections of marriage to same-sex couples, breathed new life into cases that had lagged in the courts or in the legislature, and caused opponents to redouble their efforts to keep marriage an institution for men and women.
The ripple effect of the unprecedented ruling is being felt from Arizona to Wisconsin, from New Jersey to Nevada.
The Supreme Judicial Court decision provided the impetus for a surge in donations to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay advocacy group. HRC gleefully announced to members Monday that it raised $155,000 from 3,100 donors since the ruling.
"That's happening because this is an enormously emotional time for gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts and all over the country," HRC executive director Elizabeth Birch said. "Any time an issue is controversial and jarring, it feels very scary for the group affected. They think, `This is such a precious ruling, can we hang on to it?' "
The money will support a $1 million advertising campaign that started Tuesday with a $60,000 full-page ad in USA Today depicting a lesbian couple from Cheverly, Md., and their three children posing around a Monopoly game in progress. A marriage license, the headline reads, is "Good for this family. Good for every family."
Similar ads are scheduled to appear in newspapers in regions represented by members of Congress who may be inclined to oppose the proposed constitutional amendment barring gay marriage.
"If it was one stray ad in the national press, it doesn't do anything," Birch said. "But we've got so much going. This will be a very targeted campaign on backyards of members of Congress who would vote against the amendment or against the use of the Constitution this way regardless of how they feel on gay marriage."
In New York, where the ads are scheduled to run, gay advocates who watched a same-sex marriage bill stall in the Senate for three years said they plan this year to build legislative support around a number of bills created to protect the rights of gay partners. Advocates in New York are also warning lawmakers that lawsuits will be filed against the state if it doesn't recognize unions between New Yorkers who marry in Massachusetts.
In New Jersey, a lawsuit that closely resembles the case in Massachusetts is headed to the Supreme Court. The case that some predicted was all but dead is being seen by legal specialists and advocates as possibly the next important development in the quest to legalize gay marriages in the United States.
"I think New Jersey is likely to follow suit," said Frank Askin, director of Rutgers Law School's Constitutional Litigation Clinic. "I think [the ruling] will resonate with the New Jersey Supreme Court, which has been very protective of gay rights . . . and it will bolster the general sentiment of the New Jersey courts to protect the rights of gays to the full extent possible."
While the SJC decision last week may have boosted efforts of its supporters, it is also spurring its opponents.
On Tuesday, US Senator Wayne Allard, a Colorado Republican, and four GOP cosponsors proposed an amendment that would define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. It would allow state legislatures to provide benefits for same-sex couples but block courts from requiring it.
In Arizona, where a same-sex marriage bill is headed to the Supreme Court next month, 200 supporters of gay marriages met at a town hall in Phoenix on Nov. 20. Meanwhile, 800 conservative leaders, many who oppose gay marriages, met last weekend at the Defend the Marriage and Family Conference in Phoenix. The conference kicked off a campaign to raise millions to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages, according to Kathie Gummere, political consultant for the Arizona Human Rights Fund, the state's leading gay rights organization. Gummere said both meetings were planned prior to the ruling but she believed the landmark decision sparked large attendance at each event.
Arizona House Speaker Jake Flake, reached by telephone last week, said he hopes his state will lead the effort to ban gay marriages across the country.
"It really shocked and disappointed me," Flake said of the Massachusetts ruling. "Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. I think [the ruling] lessens the sanctity of marriage."
The same-sex marriage bill in Arizona that was struck down earlier this year is far more vulnerable than the bill in New Jersey. Unlike Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York, Arizona is one of 37 states with a Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
"This case could go either way," said Gummere.
The SJC decision may also play into politics in state and local races in such states as Nevada, one of four to amend its constitution to ban gay marriage.
The issue would seem to have been put to rest with that amendment, approved by two successive referendums in which the measure garnered about 70 percent of voter support. But that didn't stop state Senator Ray Rawson, a Republican, from reiterating his opposition to gay marriage in a recent campaign mailer. Rawson, in a hotly contested primary, took pains to note that his opponent, Assemblyman Bob Beers, did not sign an anti-gay-marriage pledge circulated before the 2002 election. Beers is on record as opposing same-sex unions.
"He was merely reiterating it because it's become such a timely issue once again because of the Massachusetts decision and because of comments by President Bush on the subject," Rawson campaign spokesman Jim Denton said.
The Massachusetts ruling is also seen as a benefit for US Senate hopeful Richard Ziser, a Republican taking a shot at running against Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. Ziser, who rose to prominence as the activist who helmed the effort to pass the state's marriage amendment, is seen by many as a weak candidate because of his far-right credentials, but he and some local pundits believe that the higher profile for the gay marriage issue will aid him.
In Minnesota, where there is a law that essentially bans same-sex marriages, lawmakers plan to introduce legislation that would allow voters to decide on amending the state constitution to make marriage a civil contract between a man and a woman.
In Wisconsin, Republican legislators who earlier this month failed to narrow the state's marriage law, said the SJC decision shows the need for a national constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Similar efforts to amend state constitutions received boosts in the wake of the SJC ruling in Michigan and Oklahoma.
Legislators in New York and New Jersey have also been reluctant to support gay marriage bills. Proponents of same-sex marriages admit the road won't be easy.
The New Jersey case, Lewis v. Harris, was filed in June 2002 on behalf of seven lesbian and gay couples seeking full marriage rights. A superior court judge who dismissed the New Jersey case three weeks ago said the Legislature, not the judiciary, was the correct forum to change the definition of marriage, echoing the dissenting opinion in the Massachusetts case, Goodridge v. the Department of Public Health.
David Buckel, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the New Jersey case, said the Massachusetts ruling has bolstered hopes in the Garden State.
Buckel said the two cases are based on different state constitutions, but the Massachusetts ruling is expected to carry a "persuasive precedent" rather than a binding precedent, which would mean the court had to adhere to another court's opinion. "I have no doubt our high court will be reading the Massachusetts opinion very closely and with great interest."
Diane Marini, one of the plaintiffs in the New Jersey lawsuit, said the Massachusetts case is helping to educate residents in New Jersey about the issues relating to gay rights, and has made many aware there is still a case in the New Jersey court system.
"We are very enthused and feel as though it's finally making people realize the lawsuit is on. A lot of people were unaware," Marini said.
The Massachusetts case has inspired New York advocates who have unsuccessfully fought to make same-sex marriages legal, according to Alan Van Capelle, executive director for the Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay and lesbian rights organization.
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