[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 November, 2003, 22:55 GMT
Massachusetts backs gay marriage
Gina Smith and Heidi Norton [left] with Gloria Bailey and Linda Davis, two of the seven couples involved in the legal proceedings
The issue came to court after seven gay couples filed a lawsuit
The US state of Massachusetts has ruled that same-sex couples are legally entitled to marry.

Massachusetts could become the first state to recognise gay marriage.

But the Supreme Judicial Court stopped short of ordering that marriage licences be issued to seven gay couples who challenged the law.

President George W Bush said the ruling violated the concept of marriage as a sacred institution and vowed to work with Congress to defend it.

Lawsuit

Gay marriage is banned in the US, but Vermont and California have enacted laws which give same-sex couples the rights of traditional marriages.

I will work with congressional leaders and others to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage
US President George W Bush
The Massachusetts court ruled that barring same-sex couples from the benefits of civil marriage was "unconstitutional."

"Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support. It brings stability to our society," Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote in the long-awaited ruling.

The 4-3 ruling means the issue will now return to the state legislature, which has 180 days to come up with a solution.

The issue came to court as the result of a lawsuit filed in 2001 by seven gay couples who sued the Massachusetts Department of Public Health after they were refused marriage licenses.

Court battle

Courts in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont have also previously ruled that banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, but no state has yet issued marriage licences to gay couples.

In Hawaii and Alaska, the rulings were followed by the adoption of constitutional amendments limiting marriage to heterosexual couples.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It was created to be a sacred union between a man and a woman.
Penny, USA

In 2000, Vermont's state legislature approved civil unions for same-sex couples, giving them many of the same legal benefits of married couples.

Conservative groups and politicians opposed to homosexuality have been pressing for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriages outright.

The bill, which has 96 sponsors in the House of Representatives, seeks to enshrine marriage as a union exclusively between one man and one woman, and would make same-sex unions a legal impossibility.

Gay bishop

President Bush does not believe in gay marriage, although he said recently that a constitutional amendment was not yet necessary.

Following the ruling he issued a statement saying: "Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman."

He said he would work with congressional leaders and others to "do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage".

Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court overturned a ban on sodomy in Texas, essentially making it illegal for any state legislature to outlaw gay sex.

In November, the country's first openly gay bishop was formally consecrated in New Hampshire.

Bishop Gene Robinson has a long-term male partner, and his appointment has divided the Anglican Communion worldwide.

Gay marriages are legal in neighbouring Canada, as well as in Belgium and the Netherlands.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Adam Brookes
"The gay couple who brought the case were ecstatic"



SEE ALSO:
America's marital rows
16 Oct 03  |  Americas
Proud bishop makes history
06 Aug 03  |  Americas
US court overturns gay sex ban
26 Jun 03  |  Americas
NY Times to announce gay unions
18 Aug 02  |  Americas
Vermont's gays win parity
26 Apr 00  |  Americas


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific