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Gay Utahns Find Hope in MA Ruling

Gay Utahns Find Hope in MA Ruling

Posted - Nov. 18, 2003 at 9:39 p.m.



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Richard Piatt ReportingA stunning court decision in Massachusetts is triggering a nationwide debate over a very touchy subject. Should marriage between same-sex partners be constitutionally permitted?

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled preventing same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, opening the door to legalize gay unions in that state. The decision sparked strong reaction on both sides of the emotional issue, even as far away as Utah.

Utah as a state is nowhere near recognizing same sex unions, and not even close to openly debating it as Massachusetts is. But the fact remains, there are committed same sex couples in this state who hope, someday things will be different.

What's so wrong with two people who love each other, who own a home, a dog, share everything, and are committed for life? That's the question Scott McCoy and Mark Barr ask all the time.

Mark Barr: "It's ridiculous to think that we're trying to get something other than the respect that we deserve."

This is one of many Utah same-sex couples excited about what's going on in Massachusetts--a legal open door to gay marriage. But it's not done yet.

Mitt Romney, Governor of Massachusetts: “Marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. I will support and amendment to the Massachusetts constitution to make that expressly clear.”

That still won't change how Mark and Scott live their lives. They and many more in their situation have learned to live around legal limitations. It's common for same sex partners to create financial and medical powers of attorney, to establish guardianship in case of serious injury, to write wills to protect assets. All this and more are automatic protections for heterosexual couples who get married.

Scott McCoy: "In many respects, non-recognition is a signal to us that our relationships aren't worthy and that were essentially second class citizens."

As a couple, McCoy and Barr are prohibited in Utah from many benefits: Tax breaks for married couples are reserved for traditional unions; so are social security benefits, estate tax benefits, adoption and foster parenting and wrongful death rights.

Barr and McCoy are committed to each other enough that they exchanged vows in Vermont--a legal union there. But in Utah, legally, the vows mean nothing. And Senator Chris Buttars plans to run a bill next year to make it official.

Sen. Chris Buttars, (R) West Jordan: "The name of my bill is 'marriage defined,’ and it defines a marriage as one woman, one man, one woman legally married. End of story."

So how are other states handling the question of gay marriage? Thirty-seven states have laws defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. California passed a law this summer that grants gay couples who register as domestic partners most of the rights and responsibilities of spouses, but there is an effort to repeal the law by putting it to a referendum.

Vermont was the first state to allow civil unions between gays. After Hawaii's Supreme Court ruled that a ban on gay marriage might be unconstitutional, state lawmakers amended the constitution before same-sex weddings were allowed. Alaska similarly amended its constitution after a trial court ruled in favor of same-sex marriages.

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