The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared yesterday that the creation of a new legal category for the union of same-sex couples – civil unions – would not comply with the state’s constitution regarding marriage. Only marriage, said the court, would comply with the state’s constitution regarding a same-sex couple’s right to marry.
"The dissimilitude between the terms ‘civil marriage’ and ‘civil union’ is not innocuous; it is a considered choice of language that reflects a demonstrable assigning of same-sex, largely homosexual, couples to second-class status," said Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall of the state's Supreme Judicial Court.
This decision makes Massachusetts the first U.S. state to uphold same-sex marriages, and it allows same-sex marriages to begin taking place in mid-May.
The court's ruling was issued in response to a state Senate question about whether civil unions would meet the requirements of a 4-to-3 ruling by the court last November that same-sex couples had the right to marry.
The decision also cannot be overturned by the Massachusetts Legislature and cannot be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. But the state’s lawmakers will have a constitutional meeting next week to consider an amendment that would legally define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. This decision would be followed by two votes in the Legislature and a state referendum. The entire process could take three years.