Law’s repeal seen as threat to marriage laws nationwide

BOSTON -- The need to elect candidates who support marriage and religious freedom is urgent following two moves by Massachusetts politicians aimed at toppling the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA.)

That’s the conclusion of leading lay activists after the Massachusetts Legislature and Gov. Deval Patrick extended Medicaid benefits to civilly married same-sex couples and repealed a law that had protected other states’ marriage statutes. Patrick signed both bills into law July 31.

The MassHealth Equality law requires state taxpayers to subsidize medical benefits to same-sex married couples through MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program. The federal government does not recognize such unions.

Patrick called the bill “the first piece of legislation in the nation to reject discrimination in the federal Defense of Marriage Act.” Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee for whom Patrick is campaigning, has stated he would abolish DOMA.

How much the new special interest law will cost the state is unknown.

The new law passed both the House and Senate on voice votes, and on a unanimous voice vote July 15, the Senate repealed a 1913 law that stopped out-of-state couples from marrying in Massachusetts if their home states don’t recognize such unions. On a roll call vote July 29, the House also went for repeal, despite opposition from all four Massachusetts Catholic bishops on grounds of state sovereignty.

Nationwide reaction was swift.

“Although 46 states outlaw counterfeit marriage in some form, the 23 without constitutional amendments will be most vulnerable to the legal challenges this law is certain to bring in other states,” said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.

“Same-sex ‘marriage’ isn’t just about what two people do in the privacy of their own home. It’s about forcing us to be silent in the public square,” added Brian Brown, director of the National Organization for Marriage.

He cited numerous examples of freedoms being curtailed by the push to redefine marriage and family. “It’s about our being required to leave our religious beliefs at the door of the church,” he said.

C.J. Doyle, director of the Catholic Action League, cautioned that Americans’ freedom of speech and religion may soon be as restricted as they are in Canada.

The repeal “affirms the need for a federal marriage amendment,” concluded Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. That sentiment was echoed in an online poll taken by, in which 92 percent of respondents agreed.

Even though Bay State lawmakers never actually passed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, the Commonwealth has allowed them since 2004 following a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling known as the Goodrich Decision.

“This legislature picks and chooses like a cafeteria buffet what areas of the Goodrich decision it will embrace,” Mineau said. On one hand, Goodrich was used to expand gay marriage beyond its intended original plaintiffs.

On the other hand, lawmakers ignored Justice John Greaney’s concurring decision in Goodrich; Greaney had held that the 1913 law upholds states’ rights, Mineau said.

A fact statement, “The Real Truth Behind the 1913 Law,” was put out by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference to dispel assertions that the law was originally intended to prohibit interracial marriage.

In that statement, MCC attorney Daniel Avila outlined how Massachusetts had permitted biracial marriage since 1843. He showed that the same high court that issued Goodrich had also upheld the 1913 law as a valid protection of states’ sovereignty in another case, Cote-Whitacre v. Department of Public Health, in 2006.

Regardless, the House voted 119-36 for repeal. Previously a supporter of traditional marriage, Rep. Jeffrey Perry of East Sandwich switched sides and went with the majority, saying he still thought the law was racially motivated.

But Representatives Vinnie deMacedo of Plymouth, John Lepper of Attleboro and Mary Rogeness of Longmeadow “eloquently opposed” repeal, Avila said. Despite these facts and overwhelming constituent opposition to repeal, House Speaker Sal DiMasi pushed it through.

So determined was Democratic leadership to thwart any counter-action that both chambers re-passed the bill on July 30 with special “emergency act” language to eliminate the law’s normal 90-day waiting period, said Brian Camenker of MassResistance, a Waltham-based family advocacy group.

The Massachusetts Constitution allows for a citizens’ referendum petition filed within 90 days to legally suspend a law from taking effect until the people vote on it.

Gay activists acknowledged how national Democratic Party presidential politics played out at the State House. The momentum to repeal the law came in large part from a California court decision allowing same-sex marriage, reported Bay Windows, a homosexual advocacy newspaper.

The lobby in Massachusetts “had held off pushing to overturn the law in deference to the national Democratic Party, which had worked to persuade local lawmakers to defeat a constitutional amendment” that would have let voters decide the definition of marriage, the paper reported July 30.

“Democrats feared that opening up Massachusetts to same-sex couples from around the country could elevate same-sex marriage into a major campaign issue, hurting Sen. Barack Obama in the November presidential election.”

But because California has no residency restrictions on marriage, the door was opened, so concerns about a public backlash to the repeal hurting Democrats “were moot,” the report said.

Doyle, of the Catholic Action League, concluded: “A majority of Catholics in the Massachusetts House of Representatives voted again in favor of homosexual marriage. There’s a growing sense of outrage among faithful Catholics over the conduct of nominally Catholic politicians who repudiate fundamental Catholic moral teachings about the sanctity of human life and the integrity of traditional marriage. There is also a growing sense of urgency that this scandal must be brought to an end.”