April 03, 2004

the future of gay marriage in Massachusetts

This week the Massachusetts legislature passed a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would 1) ban gay marriage; and 2) establish civil unions with all state-granted benefits. It must pass again next year in order to be put to the voters in 2006. In the meantime, gay marriage will be legal as of May 17.

Governor Romney is acting like the black knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, gamely boasting that he'll stop May 17 from happening, some way, somehow, even as Attorney General Tom Reilly and the Supreme Judicial Court lop off his arms and legs. He even claims to be interested in a bill that would abolish civil marriage for everyone, replacing it with universal civil unions and leaving the marriage business to the religions. Don't bet on that happening.

After putting Romney in his place, Reilly ruled that out of state gay couples cannot marry in Massachusetts, thanks to a 1913 law that prohibits marriage to people who cannot legally marry in their home state. That law was a sup to the anti-miscegenation laws in other states, an early 20th century equivalent of the Fugitive Slave Law. How fitting that a racist relic of our legal system has come in handy for the Straight Citizens Council types.

There is plenty to be angry about; the vote on Monday put my state one step closer to enshrining discrimination, intolerance and phobia into its founding document, the central proclamation of its ideals. A small but significant proportion of those opposing the amendment did so because they oppose giving any rights (i.e. civil unions) to gay families. The governor and the House and Senate leadership are against us.

But there is also good reason for pride and optimism. Opposition to the amendment (the good kind) grew significantly from the beginning of the debate in February. Fewer than 10 votes need to change to kill it next year. And by then, the reality on the ground will have already undergone seismic shift. Rather than gay marriage as a scary, icky prospect looming on the horizon, it will be a mundane, daily occurrence.

This year, the status quo was heteros only, and taking constitutional action was the only way to keep it that way.

Next year, the status quo will be lots of happy newlyweds, and taking constitutional action will mean state-mandated divorce, humiliation and shame.