MA High Court Still Out on Gay Marriage

July 15, 2003 ( - The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has surpassed a self-imposed deadline for determining cases within 130 days in determining whether gays and lesbians can legally wed in the Bay State.

The clerk for the court notified the 43 lawyers and two others who had submitted arguments in the case that the justices would miss their internal deadline for handing down the decision, something the high court does in about 10% of its cases each year. ”Usually when you see something like this, it’s indicative of a more complicated case or a case where there may not be a clear consensus,” said Martin Healy, general counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, according to a Boston Globe report.

Complication and thoroughness are definitely the orders of the day for this case. The justices received 3,500 pages of legal briefs from lawyers and hundreds of groups on both sides of the controversial issue.

Peter Zupcofska, who helped write the Boston Bar Association’s friend-of-the-court brief supporting gay marriage, projected the wait will be short and that the Massachusetts high court may be taking time to digest the recent Supreme Court decision in the Texas sodomy case. He was hoping that would be a good sign for gay marriage supporters.

The case in question, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health , began in 2001 when seven same-sex couples sued the state Department of Public Health after they applied for marriage licenses and were denied. They argue that the Massachusetts Constitution’s guarantees of liberty and equality give them the right to wed partners of their choice.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge threw out the case before it was heard, ruling that the Legislature should decide the issue. The couples appealed, the case was heard in March, and as of yet no notice on when it will hand down its decision has been given.

Benefit Impact

The impact to employee benefit plans, both in Massachusetts and across the country, could be seismic. As more and more United States em ployers begin to offer domestic-partner benefits to unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples (See More Employers Offering Same-Sex Domestic Partner Insurance ), controversy around the country continues to pop up.

On the one side are proponents of extending benefits to domestic partners, among themUS Senator and Presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman (D-Connecticut) who promised to reintroduce a Senate bill granting the same benefits to domestic partners of federal workers as spouses currently receive. The legislation would give domestic partners life and health insurance, retirement pay, and compensation for on-the-job injuries. Domestic partners could be gay or straight, as long as they file an affidavit saying they are living together in a committed, intimate relationship, but are not married (See Lieberman Vows Federal Domestic Partner Benefits Bill ).

However, critics are quick to object to the notion, as was the case in Montana(See Montana Domestic Partner Benefit Bill Tabled ). There the naysayers said providing such benefits would escalate insurance rates, degrade the sanctity of marriage, and give special treatment to gays and lesbians. Cost issues were also brought when Minnesota defeated its version of the proposal (See Minnesota Governor to Sign Labor Bill Minus Domestic Partner Benefits ).