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The struggle is on!

By Frank Neisser

The battle lines are drawn here in Massachusetts over the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people to be treated as equal human beings under the law.

Since the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts handed down its ruling on Feb. 4 that a compromise institution for same-sex marriage rights was not equality, Massachusetts has become the flashpoint for an anti-LGBT hate campaign by the religious right and the political establishment. And it has also become a rallying point for all those who love justice, decency, solidarity and fair play.

The SJC had ruled in November that it is unconstitutional for the state to deny same-sex partners the same right to marry that other couples have.

That state ruling followed on the heels of the momentous U.S. Supreme Court decision last June that overturned anti-gay "sodomy" laws.

These decisions were tremendous, hard- won victories that showed how far the LGBT movement has come in the struggle to overcome centuries of bigotry and to educate and win over working people by the millions to the demand of equal rights for all.

Both before and after the SJC's Nov em ber decision, for example, people in Mas sachusetts supported equal marriage rights. The polls showed about 59 percent supporting and about 35 percent opposed.

The right to marry is a basic question of equality. There are more than 1,000 benefits on the state and federal level associated with marriage that are currently denied to same-sex partners, including numerous tax, insurance, hospital visitation and bereavement rights.

Civil unions only provide a small number of these and, as the Feb. 4 Massachu setts court ruled, create an inferior second-class status.

'Separate is not equal'

After the November state court ruling, the first act of the Massachusetts Legis lature was to ignore the plain language of the decision and to instead move to pass a "civil union law" as an alternative.

But on Feb. 4, the court decided that the legislature's civil unions proposal would establish "an unconstitutional, inferior and discriminatory status for same-sex couples," adding, "separate is seldom, if ever, equal."

The legislature scheduled a special session on Feb. 11 to consider an amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

The day before, on Feb. 10, thousands of supporters of same-sex marriage rights--including labor unionists, progres sive religious groups and others--filled the Nurses Hall and surrounding corridors inside the State House, the State House steps and surrounding streets, opposing any state constitutional amendment that would deny same-sex marriage rights.

Following that protest, legislators proposed a "compromise": a constitutional amendment that would limit marriage to a man and a woman, but would also establish civil unions for same-sex couples. It would also retroactively convert to civil unions the marriages of same-sex couples who marry before the amendment goes into effect. Such an amendment would create an inferior second-class status and would be unconstitutional.

The legislature will take the matter up for a vote that could come as early as Feb. 11. It would have to be passed by two consecutive legislatures and be approved in a general election, at the earliest in Nov ember of 2006, to become part of the constitution.

Groups that have organized rallies, media conferences and other mobilizations include the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts, Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD)--which brought the suit to state court that won this decision--Civil Liber ties Union of Massachusetts, Massachu setts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, Human Rights Campaign, National Org anization for Women-Massachusetts' Chapter and others.

The president of the 400,000-member strong Massachusetts AFL-CIO sent a letter to the legislature in support of same-sex marriage and against the amendment.

Unions representing 200,000 workers across the state have endorsed same-sex marriage, seeing it as a matter of equal rights and key to expanded benefits for their thousands of LGBT members.

Endorsing unions include the Service Employees Industrial Union Locals 509 and 2020, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, National Association of Gov ernment Employees, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the United Auto Workers of Massachusetts and an electrical workers' union--IBEW Local 1505.

Flashpoint of a national struggle

The right wing and the political establishment have been pulling out all stops to fan the flames of bigotry and hatred and use this issue to turn back the clock on civil and human rights.

The Catholic Church and the religious right have held rallies around the state and taken out full-page ads in the Boston Globe spreading hate messages, including the myth that lesbian, gay, bi and trans parents are bad for children's physical and mental wellbeing.

However, since November, progressive forces have rallied in defense of same-sex marriage rights and against any constitutional amendment.

On a national level, other state legislatures, with Ohio in the lead, are considering legislation or constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage.

President George W. Bush--with an eye towards his reactionary political base in an election year--has attacked the Massa chusetts court decision. He has publicly declared that he will make the battle to block same-sex marriage rights a pillar of his re-election campaign.

Bush has supported the "Federal Defense of Marriage Act," which seeks to override progressive state rulings like the one just won here. And he is expected to support an anti-LGBT amendment to the U.S. Constitution defining marriage as "between a man and a woman."

Democrat front-runner John Kerry, who claims to support "gay rights," has declared he's against same-sex marriage and might support an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution to bar this right.

The attacks on same-sex marriage are a wedge that can also be used to try to reverse or outlaw civil union benefits and domestic partner benefits that have already been won. The right to civil marriage is a democratic right and state function. Based on separation of church and state, this has nothing to do with religion.

All progressives should rally and mobilize to defend same-sex marriage rights as a question of fundamental justice and oppose attempts to write bigotry, discrimination and curtailment of rights into federal and state laws and constitutions.

The struggle is on.

Reprinted from the Feb. 19, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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