Monday, May 14, 2007

Mass AG Coakley to fight for gay marriage

Coakley to fight for gay marriage
Vows challenge if amendment OK'd
By Megan Woolhouse, Globe Staff | May 12, 2007

CAMBRIDGE -- Attorney General Martha Coakley said last night that if Massachusetts voters were to approve a ban on same-sex marriages, she would back any efforts to challenge the measure on constitutional grounds.

A constitutional ban could go on the ballot in November 2008 if it receives a second vote of approval from the Legislature.

"I think we can easily anticipate that if the proposed amendment was successful, there would be protracted, hard-fought litigation about the constitutionality of such a provision," she said in a speech at the annual dinner of the Massachusetts Lesbian & Gay Bar Association. "If that battle is necessary, you have my support."

She said she has asked lawyers in her office's civil rights division to be ready to respond, if necessary.

The remarks, at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, were the strongest Coakley has made on same-sex marriage since becoming attorney general in January.

Massachusetts lawmakers are weighing whether to put the proposed ban on the ballot. On Wednesday, the House and Senate met in a Constitutional Convention but recessed until next month without taking a vote on the amendment.

After a 2003 decision by the state's highest court, Massachusetts became the only state in the nation to sanction same-sex marriage. In May 2004, those marriages became legal.

In her speech, Coakley said that despite warnings by opponents of the decision, "the sky has not fallen, life goes on."

"The institution of marriage is alive and well in the Commonwealth," she said, adding that more than 8,500 same-sex couples have married in the state. "It has been made more inclusive. I think a seamless integration of an ancient institution with the modern but welcome recognition of the reality of the diversity of sexual orientation has made our state stronger."

Lisa Barstow, an opponent of same-sex marriage and spokeswoman for the group, which is advocating for the ban, disagreed with Coakley and asserted that same-sex marriage has set the state back.

She cited the decision by Catholic Charities in Boston to close its adoption service last year because the church does not condone same-sex adoption of children. "That is one clear example," Barstow said. "And who pays the price? Children."

Those who believe marriage should be legally restricted to a man and a woman have demonstrated broad support for their position. For example, the Massa chusetts Family Institute has collected tens of thousands of signatures in support of the amend ment to ban same-sex marriage. Barstow said yesterday that number is up to 170,000. "These are the citizens of Massachusetts that she has been elected to serve," she said, referring to Coakley.

Throughout her speech, Coakley received several standing ovations from the hundreds of lawyers in attendance.

Alan Minuskin, a professor at Boston College Law School, called her remarks "wonderful."

Coakley's support of same-sex marriage remains important even if the amendment fails, he said. "There's always a threat of backlash," creating new challenges to same-sex marriage.

He noted that the college's law school -- rooted in Catholic Jesuit tradition -- has had a policy forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation since 1982. There is no similar policy in the undergraduate school, he said.

Coakley said supporters of same-sex marriage must rally to fend off the challenge. "We must do everything we can to avoid this. . . . We want our future to progress, not regress. And it is why we want to try and ensure that when the Legislature reconvenes, it rejects this antigay, antimarriage amendment. It can and should do it on the merits and end this debate once and for all."

She spoke of the state's "proud tradition of championing and expand ing civil rights," calling it a travesty for the state constitution to be used to erode rights.

"We cannot allow hate to occupy any legal space in Massachusetts. We cannot legislate hate away, but we can hold those accountable who act upon it, and that's why it is important to develop and implement effective civil rights programs in our schools."

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at

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