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High Court Declines to Hear Gay Marriage Case

The Nation

November 30, 2004|David G. Savage | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed without comment an appeal from a conservative Florida group that sought to overturn the ruling of Massachusetts' highest court that gave gays and lesbians the right to marry.

Lawyers for the Orlando, Fla.-based Liberty Counsel maintained that this state decision violated the provision of the U.S. Constitution that guaranteed to each state "a republican form of government." They suggested this meant key decisions must be made by elected legislators, rather than judges.

The dismissal of this novel claim came as no surprise, and it gave no indication how the justices were likely to rule on future cases on same-sex marriage.

Despite its broad power to interpret federal law and the U.S. Constitution, the high court has no general authority to review a state court's interpretation of state law or its constitution.

Normally, when a state's highest court rules on its constitution, the decision can be changed only through a state constitutional amendment.

A year ago, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a 4-3 ruling, held that the state's protection for equal rights and personal privacy meant that same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry.

Its decision was limited to Massachusetts, but opponents of same-sex marriage feared that the effect would spread nationwide. The opponents maintained that other judges -- and perhaps the Supreme Court -- would someday rule that those marriages in Massachusetts must be honored elsewhere.

In 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act, which says no state must honor a same-sex marriage from another state, and President Clinton signed it into law. In the future, the Supreme Court may be called upon to decide if that law violates the provision of the Constitution that gives "full faith and credit" to another state's rulings.

The Massachusetts decision also figured in this year's elections. President Bush and congressional Republicans have endorsed a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would limit marriage to the "union of a man and a woman." In addition, voters in 11 states supported bans on same-sex marriage.

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