Thursday, February 03, 2005

Chicken Little Moments

Alarmist types on the Net and in print have recently claimed that religious folk will have be forced to perform same-sex marriages or lose their rights to marry anyone. Eyewash (and unconstitutional)! Ministers, priests, rabbis and other clerics authorized to solemnize marriages in Massachusetts can and do continue to discriminate. They can refuse to perform any marriage, even based on gender, race, religion or other characteristic of the couple.

However, as state officials, justices of the peace cannot refuse the civil solemnization of any couple with a valid marriage license. The office of the Governor’s Legal Counsel spells it out in its duties page for justices of the peace.
Justices of the Peace are public officials that have sworn an oath that to "bear true faith and allegiance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and [to] support the constitution thereof." In Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, 440 Mass. 309 (2003), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts decided that denying marriage to couples based on their sexual orientation violates the Massachusetts Constitution. As such, Justices of the Peace may not refuse to marry same sex couples based on their sexual orientation, and may face personal liability if they do refuse to marry a couple based solely on sexual orientation. In addition, refusing the marry a same sex couple solely based on their race, sexual orientation, or other protected status may constitute cause for removal of a Justice of the Peace's commission.
As JP commissions are easy money and coveted spots, few JPs if any will resign. Who knows, they may learn to enjoy uniting gay couples. At the one gay civil union I attended in Vermont, the JP said he preferred same-sex ceremonies because the unions were always sincere and often had original vows.

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