Premature judgments

As expected, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled (Goodridge, et al. v. Department of Public Health) that denying same-sex couples the right to civil marriage violates the equal protection guarantees of that state’s constitution. In a four-to-three decision, the court has given the state legislature 180 days to remedy the situation. The court’s majority found that the “right to marry the person of one’s choice” was “fundamental,” and that there was no “rational basis” for state statutes restricting the benefits of marriage to heterosexual couples.

The court’s decision was sweeping. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall argued that the Massachusetts Constitution “affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals,” and “forbids the creation of second-class citizens.” In other words, marriage, as traditionally understood, makes second-class citizens of those who are prohibited from marrying persons of the same sex. As a consequence, marriage itself must be redefined. Defending the court’s decision, Marshall argued that the state had “failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

How marriage is defined, and who defines it, is the crux of the issue. Massachusetts, like the rest of the nation, is deeply divided on the question. As the Roe decision has taught us, disputed social and moral questions, especially...

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