I haven't had time to read the court's opinion in Goodridge, et al. v. Department of Public Health, et al., but I did look over a couple of newspaper articles about it. Interesting contrast.
The Boston Globe article (headlined "SJC: Gay marriage legal in Mass.") says:
The Supreme Judicial Court today became the nation's first state supreme court to rule that same-sex couples have the legal right to marry.
...The ruling won't take effect for 180 days in order to allow the Legislature "to take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of this opinion...."
...Opponents could fight for a constitutional amendment, but the soonest that could be placed on the ballot is 2006.
Which makes it sound like six months from now, same-sex marriages will be legal in Massachusetts, and nothing could be done about it for another two years after that.
But the New York Times article ("High Court in Massachusetts Rules Gays Have Right to Marry") has a rather different spin on things:
But the ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court stopped short of allowing marriage licenses to be issued.... The court ordered the Legislature to come up with a solution within 180 days.
[T]he Massachusetts assembly ... is considering a constitutional amendment that would legally define a marriage as a union between one man and one woman. That proposal has been endorsed by the Speaker of the House, Tom Finneran of Boston, but other factions within the Legislature support either gay marriage or civil unions between people of the same sex.
While the ruling fell short of what the plaintiffs were seeking,....
And a careful look at the wording of the opinion in the case supports the Times interpretation: the opinion says that the state may not "deny the protections, benefits and obligations conferred by civil marriage." It doesn't say that the state must allow such marriage. In particular, it sounds to me like civil unions that confer the same protections, benefits, and obligations would satisfy the court.
(I gather, though, that the legislature can't pass a constitutional amendment in MA without putting it on the ballot, so the amendment approach may indeed be unlikely to happen anytime soon. But if the legislature starts progress toward such an amendment in the next 180 days, I don't know what the status of same-sex marriage will be during the period before the amendment is decided on.)
Anyway, it's certainly good news, and I certainly think it was the right decision to make. But it's not quite as good news as it initially seemed to be. Sorry to be a wet blanket.
Must run—late to work.
(Thanks for the pointers, Vardibidian!)