Gay marriage: Mass. ruling got ball rolling in 2003

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BOSTON — In the decade since the highest court in Massachusetts issued its landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, 14 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized it, with Illinois poised to become the 16th in a few days.

Such gains were considered almost impossible before Massachusetts opened the door on Nov. 18, 2003, with a Supreme Judicial Court ruling that declared a ban on gay marriages unconstitutional. Opponents made doomsday predictions about how gay marriage would damage traditional marriage and lead to problems with children raised in same-sex households.

But as the years have passed, public opinion has shifted. Supporters have won in the courts, in state legislatures and on state ballots amid intense lobbying, activism and advertising campaigns filled with gay couples' personal stories.

"With more same-sex marriages, you saw more people changing their minds," said Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director at Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and the lead attorney on the lawsuit that resulted in the gay marriage ruling in Massachusetts.

"Seeing gay people with their extended families, seeing the commitment, that's what has turned this around."

Opponents have shifted tactics as more and more states have legalized gay marriage. Initially, opposition focused on the predicted erosion of traditional marriage, but in recent years have pushed concerns about school curriculums and religious objections.

In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court ruled in August that an Albuquerque business owned by gay marriage opponents violated a state anti-discrimination law when it refused to photograph a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony. A law firm representing the business has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal.

Opponents say they plan to do a better job of telling similar stories of people who believe their religious freedoms have been infringed upon by the legalization of same-sex marriage.