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Former Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, who presided over the state Supreme Judicial Court when it issued its landmark decision in favor of marriage among same-sex couples in 2003, called President Obama's embrace of gay marriage "a huge step."
“There’s still a long road to go, and there are many steps along the way, but I do think that the president’s position is a huge step in the direction towards same-sex marriage," Marshall told WBUR Morning Edition host Bob Oakes in an interview.
"And I think political leadership makes an enormous difference," she added. "Political leaders can go out into the community, talk, advocate, in the way that judges can't possibly do."
The now-retired justice, however, stressed that the president's statement was "very carefully made," and does not change the country's legal landscape.
"I don't think he wants to mislead the American people," Marshall said. "It does not change the law, as such. It's clearly a major step forward, but the law hasn't changed until the law is changed."
Though several states have followed Massachusetts in legalizing marriage among same-sex couples, Marshall admitted that there's an "evident divide" in the country. Obama's announcement came a day after North Carolina voters backed a ban on gay marriage.
"People hold such deep-seated religious, moral and ethical convictions," she said. "On the other hand, we're talking here about civil marriage, and the many benefits the government provides in light of a marriage."
Marshall said in the years since the SJC's opinion, she's often stopped and thanked for it.
"I can't tell you how many times people come up to me to say what a difference our opinion made. These are not just gay and lesbian people," she said. "I wish we could explain to people that this doesn't take away from anybody, but it does make such a difference in the lives of individuals and families who are gay and lesbian."
This program aired on May 10, 2012.
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