It took far too many deaths from AIDS before officials took the series of actions that checked its spread — including closing bathhouses or restricting behavior in them. Those were drastic steps, and fiercely resisted — until the death toll from the disease grew too high to ignore.
At its peak in 1995, AIDS killed 50,000 people in the US; today, it kills fewer than 15,000 annually. Meanwhile, between 30,000 and 40,000 people continue to die by firearms every year in this country. When is the nation going to wake up to the fact that handgun deaths are a public-health emergency?
What a long way we've come since those bathhouse days. Nothing against casual sex, mind you — but what a true victory it is for same-sex couples to have the option to enjoy a committed, loving marriage. As of this week, they now have that possibility in four states, including three in New England.
For several years, we heard repeatedly that four Massachusetts judges shouldn't be able to force gay marriage upon America. That trope no longer applies. Those groundbreaking Bay State jurists were joined by four high-court justices in California last May (in a decision later negated by the state's voters), four more in Connecticut this past October, and seven more in Iowa this past week. Then, this Tuesday, 123 Vermont legislators added themselves to the tally. That same day the Washington, DC, Council preliminarily and unanimously voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Vermont's lawmakers became the first to enact same-sex marriage by statute — doing so over Republican governor Jim Douglas's veto. The margin of victory would seem to suggest that the Green Mountain State has had no negative fallout from civil unions, which they were first in the nation to adopt.
New Hampshire may be next: its House of Representatives has passed a same-sex-marriage bill that now heads to the State Senate. Maine and Rhode Island are also considering measures. We encourage them to act quickly to make gay marriage legal throughout New England.
And yet we must also remember that, irrespective of same-sex couples' rights in some states, married same-sex couples are still denied their federal rights under the Defense of Marriage Act. That unjust law is a sad legacy of the Clinton years — it is time that President Obama takes up the call and that Congress repeals it.