Issue of homosexual unions
could return to isles


Massachusetts' top court has directed that state's legislature to redefine marriage to permit homosexual unions.

WHEN Hawaii's Supreme Court issued a ruling seven years ago that could have led to the legalizing of same-sex marriages, 37 state legislatures and Congress enacted laws aimed at keeping such a policy from crossing state lines. Hawaii is now in the same position as those states, where homosexual marriages are contrary to public policy. The question now is whether this week's legalization of gay unions in Massachusetts could result in revived legal action in Hawaii. Whatever the outcome, the institution of marriage is not threatened.

The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts voted 4-3 to order the legislature to define marriage as the exclusive, "voluntary union of two persons as spouses." The legislature has six months to change the state law. Gov. Mitt Romney says he will fight for a constitutional amendment to limit marriage to a union between a man and a woman, but such a proposal could appear on the ballot no sooner than November 2006. Meanwhile, gay marriages will be legal for the first time in U.S. history.

Article IV of the U.S. Constitution says each state should give "full faith and credit" to the "public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state." States traditionally have honored marriages performed in other states, but the Supreme Court has required states to give greater "faith and credit" to another state's court judgments than to legislative or administrative acts. For example, a state may be required to recognize a divorce granted by a Massachusetts court but, perhaps, not the gay marriage that led to the divorce.

Vermont issues civil union licenses to gay and lesbian partners, and a 1997 Hawaii measure recognizes "reciprocal beneficiaries," assuring same-sex partners an assortment of rights that had been limited to spouses in heterosexual marriages. Recognition of homosexual marriages would not be an enormous leap, but isle legislators are not likely to endorse such a change. Public sentiment in the islands was reflected in the passage of a 1998 constitutional amendment that, in effect, affirmed the Legislature's restriction of marriages to those between men and women.

The Massachusetts decision comes five months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas criminal sodomy law, correctly identifying homosexuality as a human-rights issue. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that homosexuals are "entitled to respect for their private lives." The Bay State ruling is another step toward ending discrimination based upon sexual orientation.

After the Massachusetts same-sex marriage law takes effect, a gay or lesbian couple in Hawaii can be expected to travel to Boston to get married and then seek recognition of their union upon returning to the islands. That determination, like decisions on other human-rights issues, should be determined in court, not at the ballot box.



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