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NBC News Transcripts November 19, 2003 Wednesday

SHOW: Today (7:00 AM ET) - NBC

November 19, 2003 Wednesday

HEADLINE: Massachusetts Supreme Court rules gay couples can be married; Governor Mitt Romney, Republican, Massachusetts, talks about what he'll do to reverse that decision, while at the same time giving same-sex couples appropriate rights and benefits

ANCHORS: MATT LAUER; KATIE COURIC

REPORTERS: PETE WILLIAMS

BODY:
MATT LAUER, co-host:

Leaders of the Massachusetts Legislature are trying to decide what to do now after the state's Supreme Court ruled that gay couples should be allowed to marry. NBC's Pete Williams has more on that.

PETE WILLIAMS reporting:

Gay rights groups cheered the decision at an evening rally, a victory for Hillary and Julie Goodridge who say they lacked full marriage rights. Example, when Julie was in labor, hospital officials resisted letting Hillary in.

Ms. HILLARY GOODRIDGE (Gay Mother): There were complications, and Annie had to be rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. I couldn't get back into the recovery room to tell Julie how Annie was doing, because they said immediate family only, and they did not see me as being immediate family.

WILLIAMS: Along with six other couples, they sued when the state would not give them marriage licenses.

Ms. MARY BONAUTO (Attorney for Gay Couples): Marriage is an enormous legal institution, and it provides a real safety net for families in times of need. And gay and lesbian people and families have been falling through that safety net.

WILLIAMS: By a vote of 4-to-3, the Massachusetts Supreme Court said denying same-sex couples the right to marry makes them second-class citizens and is based on the same kind of prejudice that once banned interracial marriages. Allowing same-sex marriage, the court said, would do nothing to undermine the institution of marriage. But opponents of the decision disagree.

Representative PHIL TRAVIS (Democrat, Massachusetts Legislature): I think it flies in the face of what we know in Massachusetts as marriage and have demonstrated since our founding.

WILLIAMS: The court put a six-month hold on its own ruling, inviting the state Legislature to take, quote, "any action it deems appropriate." If lawmakers decide not to act, same-sex couples could start getting married 180 days from now. For TODAY, Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.

LAUER: Mitt Romney is the governor of Massachusetts.

Governor Romney, good morning to you.

Governor MITT ROMNEY (Republican, Massachusetts): Good morning, Matt.

LAUER: Le-let's talk about this split decision and-and what it says, that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples violates the state's compe-constitution, creates second-class citizens, and as Pete Williams just said, "is based on the same kind of prejudice that once made interracial marriage illegal." What's your response to that?

Gov. ROMNEY: Well, I agree with 3000 years of recorded human history, which-which frankly is in contravention of what the majority of the supreme judicial court said. I agree with the minority opinion, which says these kinds of matters ought to be left to history and left to the Legislature and the people. And for that reason, I think the people in Massachusetts will take necessary corrective action to assure that the institution of marriage is preserved between a male and a female. Of course, at the same time, reaching out to gay couples, providing necessary civil rights and-and certain appropriate benefits. But marriage is an institution between a man and a woman.

LAUER: What you're doing is you're talking about a compromise here. You're saying at-at once you're going to work probably on an amendment to the Massachusetts state Constitution signifying marriage as simply between a man and a woman, but you're also talking about trying to come up, and-and perhaps in the next 180 days, with some sort of benefits for same-sex couples.

Gov. ROMNEY: I-I think that's right. I think we-we certainly have to follow the law, and the Supreme Court has laid down what we must do. But in my view, the right action is to follow two courses at the same time. One is to co-to follow the-the law and to make the necessary adjustments with regards to providing benefits to gay couples.

LAUER: How quickly...

Gov. ROMNEY: At the same time...

LAUER: ...can you change the constitution in Massachusetts? You can't do that in 180 days, can you?

Gov. ROMNEY: Well, the second track is to go for a constitutional amendment, and that'll take about two years. It's the same thing that's happened in Ca-excuse me, in Hawaii and Alaska. They made these kind of constitutional adjustments. I think we have to do the same thing to preserve the institution as we understand it.

LAUER: When you talk about benefits for same-sex couples, we're talking about health care benefits, talking about survivors' benefits, hospital visitation as-as was the case in one of the examples of the-of the couple that sued the state. What other benefits might be included?

Gov. ROMNEY: Well, I think appropriate benefits include hospital visitation rights, as well as benefits with regards to inheritance for a child that might be part of a-a gay couple. But most of the benefits that non-traditional couples are seeking are benefits that can only be conferred by the federal government, tax benefits and the like, and those things are not going to be decided by a state supreme court. They're going to be decided by the federal government.

LAUER: Is this...

Gov. ROMNEY: I think President Bush has made it clear that he's going to oppose that kind of change.

LAUER: Is this a matter of semantics, Governor? Is the word marriage the problem here? Would you agree with a term more in line with union or partnership?

Gov. ROMNEY: Well, of course, the word marriage is an important distinction, but I think also the benefits are, as well. I think there should be a distinction between a relationship entered into by a man and a woman and a contractual relationship that may exist between two individuals of the same sex. And if it's in all intents and purposes exactly the same as marriage, might as well be called marriage. In my view, there should be a more significant distinction.

LAUER: Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Governor, thanks very much.

Gov. ROMNEY: Thank you, Matt.

LAUER: It's 17 after the hour. Once again, here's Katie.

KATIE COURIC, co-host:

Matt, thanks.

LOAD-DATE: November 19, 2003

Copyright 2003 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.
NBC News Transcripts

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