Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Slowly, Slowly to SSM

Glasses partially full are not a good metaphor for a marriage-equality struggle. Perhaps the old climb-the-mountain cliché might work better.

I'm sure America, most of America, will get there eventually. Just a few days ago, not your jolliest U.S. Congressman, Rep. Barney Frank said as much to student groups at George Washington University, as covered in the Daily Colonial.

Yet a glance at the map of laws and amendments against same-sex-marriage, civil unions and even domestic partnerships suggests that there was no shot. Even before the Goodridge decision by our Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), legislatures and anti-gay groups in numerous states raced to add restrictions to laws and or constitutions.

Marriage as an institution had been in trouble since at least WWII and arguably long before. Generations of us, through and including numerous legislators and famous ministers, treated their own spousal vows as whimsy and easily overridden inconvenience.

The concept that recognizing the inborn nature of homosexuality and extending this key right to gay couples seemed to be more than a socially regressive country could abide. Cynics may say too that this phobia of some same-sex-marriage contagion makes an adequate cover for heterosexuals' failure to maintain the institution.

Nonetheless, thanks in no small part to then President W.J. Clinton's Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government gave states the freedom to centuries of comity, a fundamental basis of our federalism. They could claim a blessing to refuse to recognize legal same-sex marriages, thus foiling those alleged and widely defamed activist judges.
Go ahead, you Massachusetts couple. Move to our state and see how good your gay marriage is here!
For those who favor civil rights in general and marriage equality in particular, the North-to-South bands of anti-SSM states could get depressing. Both coasts, particularly here in the Northeast are headed up that mountain to equality pretty quickly, but so many states have so many restrictions. In say, Idaho, or the extreme, Virginia, it would take quite a lot of popular and legislative voting or in the least a U.S. Supreme Court decision to undo the heavy veneers of discrimination.

Yet, several funny things happened on the way to defend against Massachusetts' marriage equality:
  • Other countries preceded or followed in legalizing same-sex marriage or civil unions.
  • Other states joined Vermont in civil unions and are looking ahead toward full SSM.
  • The percentage of Americans opposed to SSM and to civil unions continued to drop, plunging in some areas.
  • American who get to know homosexual people, partners and parents often drop their opposition to their unions or marriages.
  • Perhaps almost as influential as familiarity, awareness of the extreme exaggeration and dishonesty of the promises of terrible effects of civil unions and SSM has turned many around.
It was with this background that our Barney Frank spoke to students at GWU, at an event sponsored by Allied in Pride and College Democrats. He certainly was in his element and neither sponsor was likely to be hostile, even to a left-wing Bay Stater.

He predicted that "...New York and California will recognize gay marriage in the next four or five years and the other states will follow in the next ten years.” I'm not so sure it will happen that fast, but I agree with the direction he sees.

In analyzing the Massachusetts experience, he said that the SJC's ruling that marriage equality was necessary for our laws and constitution was a relative painless approach to such a big shift. The people could see whether the predictions of disaster would occur that way.

He added, "After a couple years, the average heterosexual person forgets gay marriage is there.” The opinion polls here, with well over 60% favoring SSM three years on, support that view. Frank said too that a big factor in expanding civil rights is that ordinary people find out that extending common rights to others doesn't harm them.

Perhaps Frank is overly optimistic or I am overly pessimistic, but only about the timing. I agree with him that we shall get up that mountain.

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1 comment:

Laurel said...

Lets just hope that no one triggers another avalanche this May [Sen Murray, I'm talking to you] as we attempt to summit.