Monday, October 02, 2006

Ocean State Angst

Over the centuries, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have been pretty good buddies and neighbors. To their disgrace, they were both early adopters, promulgators and profiteers from slavery. When they outlawed it locally -- mostly because it wasn't efficient -- they had no method of preventing their sea traders from being the key players throughout the other colonies.

Now, Massachusetts is catalyzing action on same-sex marriage down there. What, oh what is to happen?

The short of it is that the anti-gay, anti-same-sex marriage governor Donald Carcieri wants none of last week's Superior Court decision saying R.I. couples can marry here. Neither does Senate Leader Joseph Montalbano. So far, they have successfully kept the left-leaning legislature there from debating or voting on SSM bills. They are really afraid of the issue, the Bay State disease.

So far a few Rhody resident couples plan to visit us and legalize their long-term relationships. On their side, Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch won't say whether he'll direct recognizing or not recognizing the new marriages.

Our own hateful 1913 laws that Mitt Romney and Tom Reilly enforced to slow down Massachusetts-married same-sex couples from, gasp, leaving the state showed their limits. Regardless of whether they existed or were used, people move. Legally wed SSM couples would leave here for jobs or personal reasons. Some will ask for recognition of their marriages elsewhere.

The predictable Chicken Little response of anti-gay groups have seen dozens of anti-SSM laws and amendments passed or on the ballot throughout the nation. This too is slowing the inevitable. The underlying irony of that is that married homosexual couples threaten no one and undercut the panic wherever they live. Much as in Maine finally passing gay-rights legislation, when people work with, live beside, and raise their kids with those of gay spouses, the irrational opposition withers like the sickly plant it is.

We seem destined to drag this process out as long as possible. With the touchstone of then President Bill Clinton's Defense of Marriage Act -- his worst legislation, states have too little pressure to honor comity and recognize marriages they don't want to. It may be decades before the narrowest minded of our states revisit their anti-SSM laws and amendments.

Rhode Island has a chance though. Its legislature is close to debating and maybe passing marriage equality. The governor would surely veto it and the votes almost as surely would not be there for an override -- on the first go.

Yet we have the anti forces there like Family Research Council President Tony Perkins doing his best Chicken Little saying the recent court decision will "export same-sex 'marriage' to Rhode Island." Pretending that Americans will just stay put here is too absurd.

We can't be sure what will happen locally with the decision either. The Superior Court is a trial court and must obey the direction from above. The law and its interpretation by the Supreme Judicial Court were:
  1. Plain that where states did not forbid SSM, their residents could marry here.
  2. Muddled on whether Rhode Island forbid SSM -- it has no DOMA wording, but mentions a man and a women in some marriage regulations.
It is possible that this might lose in an appeals court, where interpretation is allowed and encouraged.

The Boston Herald has a nice think piece on this by Paul J. Martinek, editor of Masslawbrief.com. With the conflicting 3-3 SJC split on whether Rhody law forbids SSM, he doesn't predict what an appeals court might do.

However, he does write:, "Surely it would be a surprise to gays and lesbians in Rhode Island to learn that they can marry in their home state. If they could, why would they need to drive across the border to Massachusetts to tie the knot?"

How amusing it would be if before R.I.'s legislature got the debate this, before a Massachusetts court got to rule on an appeal, that a Rhode Island court decided that nothing forbade same-sex couples from marrying there.

This promises to be an exciting fall in Providence.

Update: After this post, we found a new comment from R.I. AG Lynch. Judge Thomas Connolly's ruling said he based his decision on Rhode Island law which does specifically say same-sex couples cannot marry...Nor does it say they can Lynch said Monday. Lynch pointed to same-sex couples who married in Canada and Europe whose weddings already are not recognized in Rhode Island....Lynch said that the state will recognize gay marriage only when the legislature or the courts authorize it.


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