We can all thank the conservatives who several years ago controlled the state legislature for the fact that Massachusetts citizens have same-sex- marriage rights.
It was the arrogance, the hubris, of conservative power players such as then–House Speaker Thomas Finneran that prevented local legislators from following Vermont’s lead in enacting humane, but still limiting, civil unions.
Historical speculation is risky business, but it is within the realm of reason to suggest that if Massachusetts had civil unions, or maybe even less comprehensive domestic partnerships, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court would not have taken the historically sweeping action it did on November 18, 2003, when it ruled that denying people of the same gender the right to marry was unconstitutional.
There was a strong backlash. Although efforts to amend the US Constitution to bar so-called gay marriage appear to be dead, 27 states have adopted similar measures.
There is, however, an important wrinkle in this picture. Despite vocal opposition to same-sex marriage in many quarters, the sentiment runs from “not opposed” to “strongly in favor” among those who are under 30. Time, in other words, is on the side of the angels.
At the moment, same-sex marriage is legal in only a handful of nations: Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Spain. Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other nations, in much the same way that Rhode Island, which itself does not permit gay marriage, honors such marriages if they are performed in Massachusetts.
But marriage rights in some form — be they registered partnerships, domestic partnerships, or civil unions — are now available in 10 states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia) and 18 nations (Andorra, Columbia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom).
So when the right-wing nut jobs such as Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh resume raving about the Bay State’s essentially satanic lifestyle we can all safely blow them a raspberry secure in the knowledge that we’re only a little bit more broad-minded than Switzerland.
The fact of the matter is that the civilized world — defined as any place where O’Reilly and Limbaugh are recognized as loud-mouthed charlatans — appears to be slowly but surely turning what we today call marriage into something that in the future we will all recognize as civil unions.
In other words, marriage will become a purely religious union, while civil union will be what is legally binding. As more and more states and nations adopt what we today call civil unions in lieu of what we today call marriage, the easier it will be for those unions to evolve further culturally, until someday they are equivalent — legally — to marriage.
This will, of course, take years — probably decades. But while Massachusetts waits for the rest of America — and indeed the world — to catch up, we can be proud.
In Talking Politics, David Bernstein parses the winners, losers, movers, and shakers behind the scenes at the constitutional convention. Plus, revisit Bernstein's column predicting that although powerful people on Beacon Hill wanted to stop the gay-marriage ban, they didn't have the votes.
And on the Phlog, a Massachusetts State Senator explains why she switched to vote no against the ammendment.