There was never any real question that the legislature, convened in a Constitutional Convention, would vote on the bigoted proposal to ban marriage between couples of the same sex.
The vile jaw-boning of the thankfully now ex-governor Mitt Romney had nothing to do with it.
Likewise, the admonition of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court had little to do with it.
The issue, as Phoenix political writer David S. Bernstein pointed out before this week’s dispiriting vote, was guaranteed to come to a vote because Senate president Robert Travaglini thought it should.
Unfortunately, by denying that reality, the people fighting on the side of the angels magnified the scope of the victory won by gay-marriage opponents.
Senate president Travaglini has been clear for some time that he thought this noxious measure should come to a vote. And he has been equally clear that he opposes same-sex-marriage rights and favors civil unions.
There might have been a time when it was appropriate, perhaps even reasonable, to debate the relative merits of each. There was a time when voting for civil unions would have been welcome. Indeed, there’s a strong case to be made for simply eliminating “marriage” from our legal lexicon altogether, and referring to all who choose to enter into this civil contract as “civil unions.”
But the time for that debate has long since passed. And it is dishonest to pretend otherwise.
It took a common-sense reading of the state constitution to not only put the issue of same-sex marriage on the agenda, but, by doing so, to change the very nature of the agenda itself.
The issue today isn’t civil unions, it’s marriage: the right of people of the same sex to do what people of the opposite sex have been able to do since beyond memory. The bigots, the rednecks, the haters (and let’s be clear, that’s what the core opponents of same-sex marriage are) have so far succeeded in their mind game of convincing enough legislators that because marriage has throughout history legally joined people only of the opposite sex, it must forever be so. By that measure, women and African Americans would still be chattel, the property of their husbands or owners.
Public officials like Travaglini and Senator John Kerry who try to straddle the fence on this issue effectively comfort those with the same historical mindset — the dangerously unimaginative one — that wanted to preserve slavery, deny women the vote, and deny African-Americans and other ethnic minorities their just measure of the national dream. When those debates were at full throttle in years past, there were plenty of well-meaning moderates sympathetic to the civil-rights issues at hand who simply could not see the disastrous consequences of their equivocation and accommodation of outright prejudice.
Just as we cannot turn back the clock, we cannot stop the march of time. And the time for men and women who are gay and lesbian to be able to marry the people they love has come.
It is as criminal to deny our neighbors that right today as it was 50 years ago to deny black southerners their rights. It’s as simple as that.
On his way out of the State House, Mitt Romney has left Massachusetts a nasty legacy: punishingly high local property taxes, an unexpected billion dollar deficit, and a mobilized gang of rednecks.
Every dog, of course, has his day. Never mind that Romney’s last “victory” was really Travaglini’s will.
If the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s showed us anything, it’s that progress isn’t linear. It jerks along. It comes in fits and starts. But it comes.
Public officials like Senate president Travaglini need to be educated, to be convinced, that the time for sitting on the fence has passed. That to oppose in any way, shape, or form the right of gay and lesbian people to enjoy the same right as so-called straight people to marry — in name and in fact — is to act like a bigot.
Bigot is, to be sure, a nasty name. But what would you call someone who denied women or blacks the right to vote? Or said to women and African-Americans, or even to recently naturalized citizens, that, sure, you can vote, but your vote will count as only a fraction of that of a man or white people or those born in this nation. That is the difference between supporting civil unions or full marriage rights.
Governor Deval Patrick gets it. He understands that the time has come to not only grant full marriage rights to all Massachusetts’s citizens, but to call it “marriage.” And his unqualified support for gay marriage on the eve of the State House vote is a heartening indication that the battle next time will be joined and led from the top.
Gay marriage will come up for a vote in the next legislative session. The idea that our state constitution, which is older than our national constitution, must be amended to specifically prohibit gay marriage should be defeated.
A first step in making that happen is to e-mail Senate president Robert Travaglini (with a copy to every state senator who voted yes on this deadly lunge at basic civil rights) this simple message:
Dear President Travaglini: Please support equal rights for all. Please support gay marriage and defeat the measure to amend our constitution by whatever means are necessary.