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Saturday, March 20, 2004

The difference a month makes.

Kristen Lombardi, who has written some great coverage of the Massachusetts battle over same-sex marriage for the Boston Phoenix, examines the second round of the Constitutional Convention. Although it's still likely that an amendment defining "marriage" as male-female turf will pass, gay and lesbian rights activists have made huge gains. (Remember: An amendment passed by this convention must also be passed by another convention in next year's legislature — after same-sex couples start receiving marriage licenses on May 17 — and, if it's approved in that convention, must then go on the ballot for a popular vote in November 2006.) Civil unions had no legislative chance in Massachusetts a year ago; yet at the March ConCon an amendment that would have invalidated same-sex relationships lost 136-62. The trend is now clearly in favor of civil unions, and in the long run for civil marriage as well.

Lombardi writes that gay-rights advocates have done terrific organizing work. (I tip my hat to the MassEquality folks, and urge you to join me in putting a few bucks toward their efforts.) But Gavin Newsom deserves a lot of credit, too:

Since February 12, the second day of the Massachusetts ConCon, lesbian and gay couples have been getting married. And the sky hasnít fallen. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom started it all late in the afternoon of February 12, when he married Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first nationwide organization for lesbians. The couple have been together for 51 years. As Newsom explained to Time, he wanted simply to show that same-sex marriages could be done. "Put a human face on it," he said. "Letís not talk about it in theory." That first wedding kicked off a frenzy when thousands more same-sex couples lined up outside San Francisco City Hall to get married as well. And it was that human face — the televised images of couples waiting all night in the pouring rain to be wed — that set off something of a cultural tsunami that has yet to settle down.

But what will happen when the Constitutional Convention meets for a third time to try to undo the Supreme Judicial Court decision?

Will the pro-gay-marriage momentum translate into enough votes to defeat the constitutional amendment? On paper, it doesnít seem likely. In just a month, the number of legislators voting with pro-gay forces increased from 55 in February to 77 last week. But thatís still a far cry from the magic number of 101 needed to stop the amendment.

Over these next two weeks, gay-rights advocates intend to set their sights on legislators who privately shudder at the thought of amending the state constitution to bar same-sex couples from civil marriage but who canít bring themselves to vote that way. According to Isaacson, a "fair number" of Massachusetts representatives and senators have actually felt "guilty" or "embarrassed" about the votes that theyíve cast against full equality for gay and lesbian couples. "I cannot tell you how many legislators have said to me, ĎArline, Iím sorry I have to vote this way,í" she says, even as she notes that she isnít about to specify the exact number. "Letís just say Iím seeing a sharp increase in the number of legislators voting against us yet feeling badly about it."

Ironically, the sense of inevitability around gay marriage may ultimately hurt the pro-gay-marriage side. The feeling that gay marriage is sure to happen some day, regardless of what Massachusetts legislators do today — has made for some interesting rationalizations. Some legislators may believe they can vote for a constitutional amendment because of current political concerns — i.e., too much heat from constituents or concern about a challenger in the November elections — and then oppose it if it makes it on to the November 2006 ballot. (In order for a constitutional amendment to pass, it must be approved in two successive legislative ConCons and then be ratified by a majority of voters.) Other legislators figure that whatever they do, the next generation of lawmakers will overwhelmingly favor same-sex-marriage rights and fix any damage caused by an amendment. For the pro-gay side, the trick is to convince lawmakers that this vote cannot be rationalized away. Or, more bluntly, to worry about their legacy. Do they want to be on the winning side of history? Or do they want to be remembered the way that those who opposed civil-rights legislation for African-Americans are remembered today — as moral and intellectual cowards?

Thatís far more relevant, Isaacson believes, than whatís happening nationally. And thatís because the Massachusetts debate differs from discussions in other parts of the country in one fundamental way: gay and lesbian couples in this state have a legal right to marry, whereas their counterparts in other states donít. Beginning May 17, city and town clerks across the state will be able to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples thanks to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Courtís November 18 ruling that the current ban on such marriages is unconstitutional.

("Same-sex banns in Boston?", Kristen Lombardi, Boston Phoenix 3.25.04)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 20 March 2004 at 9:38 AM

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