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The New York Times
The Normality of Gay Marriages
Published: September 17, 2005
There's nothing like a touch of real-world experience to inject some reason into the inflammatory national debate over gay marriages. Take Massachusetts, where the state's highest court held in late 2003 that under the State Constitution, same-sex couples have a right to marry. The State Legislature moved to undo that decision last year by approving a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages and create civil unions as an alternative. But this year, when precisely the same measure came up for a required second vote, it was defeated by a thumping margin of 157 to 39.
The main reason for the flip-flop is that some 6,600 same-sex couples have married over the past year with nary a sign of adverse effects. The sanctity of heterosexual marriages has not been destroyed. Public morals have not gone into a tailspin. Legislators who supported gay marriage in last year's vote have been re-elected. Gay couples, many of whom had been living together monogamously for years, have rejoiced at official recognition of their commitment.
As a Republican leader explained in justifying his vote switch: "Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry who could not before." A Democrat attributed his change of heart to the beneficial effects he saw "when I looked in the eyes of the children living with these couples." Gay marriage, it turned out, is good for family values.
Some legislators who strongly oppose gay marriages also switched their votes this year for tactical reasons. They realized that the original measure was headed for defeat, and they had never really liked the part that created civil unions anyway. They are now pinning their hopes on an even harsher proposal, endorsed by Gov. Mitt Romney, that would ban gay marriages without allowing civil unions.
We can only hope that this new appeal to fear and bigotry will stumble over the reality, already apparent, that gay marriage is no threat to the larger community. States that rushed to ban same-sex marriages after the Massachusetts court ruling were succumbing to misplaced hysteria.
Gay marriage: Votes vs. edicts
Published September 16, 2005
The Massachusetts legislature voted this week to reject a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, a development that, curiously, was greeted enthusiastically by both sides of the intensely emotional issue.
This may signal that Massachusetts is getting comfortable with the idea of gay marriage. Last year, the legislature voted overwhelmingly to support a proposed amendment to ban gay marriage. This year, it overwhelmingly rejected the amendment, which legislators had to approve in two consecutive sessions before it could go before the state's voters in 2006.
Almost all freshmen lawmakers voted against the ban, and some conservatives shifted. "I do think that a lot of people have been thinking over the last year," Senate GOP leader Brian Lees said in The Boston Globe. Lees, once a sponsor of the amendment, no longer supports it.
The important thing is, lawmakers voted. They represented the people of Massachusetts in a declaration of the will of those people.
Though supporters of gay marriage cheered when the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that a ban was illegal and cheered again when the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2003 ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages, it was almost inevitable that those adventurous court rulings would create a political backlash. Many people didn't like having courts determine the definition of marriage, something that should be decided through the political process.
We're seeing the political process assert itself, as it should on this issue. Massachusetts citizens may well be deciding that they are fine with the state's recognizing marriage between same-sex couples. That's not a given. Some lawmakers voted this week against the amendment because, while it would have prohibited same-sex marriage, it would have recognized same-sex civil unions. They plan to push for an amendment that would ban gay marriage without establishing civil unions.
That effort, which could go to Massachusetts voters in 2008, has the support of Gov. Mitt Romney, who is a possible GOP candidate for president. By all signs, though, the political momentum in Massachusetts is toward the acceptance of gay marriage there.
That is not the case elsewhere. Last November, voters in 11 states approved constitutional amendments declaring that their laws will recognize only marriages between a man and a woman. Other states have adopted similar amendments. At the same time, movement on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage has stalled in Congress.
The view here has been that Congress should reject such an amendment and leave this decision to the people of the various states. As a political matter, it would be wiser to press for public support of civil unions, which confer the legal rights and protections of marriage but don't run into the thorny debate about whether the very definition of marriage should be changed. Political support and government recognition of civil unions are much further along in many places than is backing for gay marriage.
Supporters of gay marriage need to build public acceptance community by community, state by state. That won't be accomplished by court edict. It may, however, be accomplished by dogged work in the legislatures, and Massachusetts may wind up leading by example.