Looming Legal Fight Clouds Gay Marriage Milestone Thursday marks the third anniversary of legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts. But even as gay rights advocates celebrate the nearly 10,000 same-sex couples who've officially tied the knot, they are gearing up to fight a measure that might end same-sex marriage altogether.
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Looming Legal Fight Clouds Gay Marriage Milestone

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Looming Legal Fight Clouds Gay Marriage Milestone

Looming Legal Fight Clouds Gay Marriage Milestone

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This is the day that advocates of gay marriage celebrate nearly 10,000 same-sex weddings in Massachusetts. At the same time, there's a proposal to end same-sex marriage.

NPR's Tovia Smith reports on the debate.

TOVIA SMITH: When Dean Hara married his longtime partner, former Massachusetts Congressman Gerry Studds, he wasn't thinking about those 1,400 rights, benefits and protections of marriage that advocates always talk about.

Mr. DEAN HARA: I remember that Monday afternoon I was sitting in my office thinking, I'm getting married today. It was like these butterflies.

SMITH: But two years later, Hara's legal rights were very much on his mind when Congressman Studds suddenly collapsed and Hara spent 10 days by his bedside at the hospital making complicated medical decisions about his care until Studds died.

Mr. HARA: All I can say is thank God we were married. Thank God that I could make those decisions. I'm very, very fortunate in that context.

SMITH: But if Hara got to experience the benefits of gay marriage, he also got to see its limitations when he applied to the federal government for survivor benefits like health insurance, Social Security and Studds' pension.

Mr. HARA: And then, of course, I get the letter back saying that at the federal level we are not married. And it is frustrating, it is a slap in the face.

SMITH: Hara says he's talking with attorneys about challenging the Federal Defense of Marriage Act that block federal recognition of his marriage. It's inevitably the next battleground, but right now advocates say they've got a more urgent fight to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment that would kill gay marriage in Massachusetts.

Ms. ARLINE ISAACSON (Gay Rights Activist): The moment we are about to head into is huge, and we can't afford to lose here.

SMITH: Arline Isaacson has been frantically lobbying lawmakers for the eight more votes she needs to keep gay marriage alive. The proposed ban has already passed one legislative vote. It needs just one-quarter of lawmakers to pass again and move on to the ballot for final approval. If that happens, Isaacson says, there's no telling who would win.

Ms. ISAACSON: It will be nasty, vicious, divisive. Our opponents will use every negative and false stereotype about gay people — you'll end up with pedophilia, polygamy, bestiality. It's a red herring. It's nonsense. But they use it and it sometimes works.

(Soundbite of cars honking)

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

SMITH: Protests like this one at the state house last week may be just a hint of what's to come. On one side, advocates like 61-year-old Kathy Godbout say the past three years proved that gay marriage does no harm to straight people like her.

Ms. KATHY GODBOUT: The sky hasn't fallen. It has not hurt my marriage of 43 years to have equal rights for everyone.

Ms. JOANNA POWELL: But wait, nothing dramatic has happened in the last three years. But I'm worried about the next 20 to 30 to 40 years.

SMITH: Forty-four-year-old Joanne Powell, one of the gay marriage opponents, says the consequences of same-sex marriage will soon be visible. As 62-year-old Jane Finn says, it's already affecting what schools teach and, she says, confusing kids.

Ms. JANE FINN: A lot of the kids coming up are saying they are bisexuals. Well, I have to tell you — what is it, in the water? Is it in the milk? Or is it in the education? I do not want my children like that.

SMITH: In the past three years, legislative support for gay marriage here has tripled to some 71 percent. Public approval has climbed more slowly to just above 50 percent. But neither side really trusts the opinion polls. Kris Mineau is a lobbyist opposed to gay marriage.

Mr. KRIS MINEAU (President, Massachusetts Family Institute): People are not really sharing their innermost feelings with pollsters. But in the privacy of the voting booth, they vote according to their heart.

SMITH: Mineau is also pursuing a strategy of containment. He is fighting efforts to open up Massachusetts' same-sex marriage to couples from any other state.

Mr. MINEAU: It just renders confusion between the states, animosity between the states. And we have standards in our nation. If every state drove on a different side of the road, it would be chaos.

SMITH: The first legal clashes over Massachusetts' gay marriages are already brewing. Several New York couples are fighting to get their marriages recognized in New York, and a Rhode Island couple is asking a court to recognize their same-sex marriage, ironically because they want the court to grant them a divorce.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

MONTAGNE: And on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED today, Tovia Smith looks at how the gay marriage is affecting the debate on civil unions.

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