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Getting Gay Marriage Nationwide Complex

November 27, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ After the initial surge of elation and outrage, supporters and opponents of gay marriage are looking past a historic Massachusetts court ruling toward a nationwide, state-by-state struggle that will be complicated, nasty and politically treacherous.

Some gay couples are considering traveling to Massachusetts to get married, now that the state’s Supreme Judicial Court has ruled they should have that right within six months. Others hope for a ripple effect, triggered by lawsuits, that eventually will require their home states to recognize same-sex marriages.

``There are a lot of questions _ couples are asking about blood tests, application forms,″ said Corri Planck of the Family Pride Coalition, an advocacy group for gay families. ``As a community, we haven’t had to pursue something like this before; it’s incredibly exciting.″

In the other camp, conservatives are urging Massachusetts lawmakers to somehow circumvent the court order and exhorting Congress to approve a constitutional amendment that would bar gay marriage nationwide.

``Most Americans don’t pay attention to this issue until it’s thrust upon them,″ said Matt Daniels, whose Alliance for Marriage has promoted the amendment. ``Now you’re going to see millions of them raising their voices. ... They don’t believe gays and lesbians have the right to define marriage for everyone else.″

Energized by the court ruling, conservatives are railing against ``judicial tyranny″ and vow to make gay marriage a pivotal issue in the 2004 elections. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said the ruling could pave the way for polygamy; Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning wondered aloud if a man could now marry his pet.

``We will fight courthouse to courthouse,″ said Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group. ``It will take incredible resources _ both in terms of manpower and finances _ to defeat the efforts of radical homosexual activists to take this decision and impose it nationwide but we can win.″

Determination is just as firm on the other side.

``We’ve gone to great lengths to put our family together; it was a lot of work and a lot of pain,″ said Ken Manford of Dallas, who _ along with his partner _ has adopted a 2-year-old Guatemalan boy.

Manford said he and Jeffrey Roach, partners for 13 years, are considering going to Massachusetts to get married, but only if convinced it will have practical benefits.

``We wouldn’t go just for a big ceremony for something that is null and void when we get back to Texas,″ Manford said. ``Our only concern is to protect the family we’ve built. We just want the same rights as everyone else.″

A Chicago couple, Lenka Reznicek and Bari Guibord, had a civil union ceremony three years ago in Vermont after it became the first state to grant marriage-like rights to gays and lesbians. Now they’re thinking of marrying in Massachusetts, in part to win over some skeptical relatives.

``It would be nice to say, ’Look, we’re married now,‴ Guibord said.

Sarah Lael, 41, of Franklin Park, N.J., said she cried with joy upon learning of the ruling in Massachusetts, but she and her partner, Suyin Lael, have no interest in marrying there _ which might require establishing residency. The Laels, who have three children, are among seven New Jersey couples suing for the right to wed in their home state.

``I’ve been in New Jersey since elementary school _ I intend to get married here,″ Sarah Lael said.

Since last week’s court ruling, only a few prominent politicians have explicitly endorsed gay marriage.

Most leading Democrats say gay couples can be granted the same legal rights as heterosexual spouses without declaring that same-sex unions are marriages. President Bush criticized the ruling, but declined _ at least for now _ to join a growing number of Republicans in Congress who favor the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

There already is a federal law, enacted in 1996, stipulating that marriage is between a man and woman. Thirty-seven states have comparable laws; legislators in several of them want to toughen the measures in hopes of limiting any ripple effect from Massachusetts.

Gay marriage in Massachusetts will likely raise myriad legal complications elsewhere. States with Defense of Marriage acts might refuse to recognize same-sex marriages by their own citizens, said law professor Mark Strasser. But what about a gay, married Massachusetts couple staying temporarily in another state for a vacation or job assignment?

``All of this will be a mess,″ said Strasser, who teaches at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio.

The proposed federal amendment to ban gay marriage might resolve some of the legal questions, but it must be approved by two-thirds of the House and Senate, then ratified by three-fourths of the states.

``Were the amendment to go to the states, it would be an incredibly sad and ugly chapter in American history,″ said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. ``It would tear some states apart for no good reason.″

While Foreman expects vehement political attacks from the right, conservatives see themselves resisting a juggernaut.

``The homosexual activist movement,″ said James Dobson, founder of the Christian group Focus on the Family, ``is now closer than it has ever been to administering a devastating and potentially fatal blow to the traditional family.″

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