November 18th, 2003

Well, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has finally got around to issuing its long-awaited ruling on gay marriage. The court damn near got it right, too. In fact, it came so close to actually getting it right that one can only conclude the justices knew what they ought to do and simply didn’t have the backbone for it. Instead of just throwing out the state’s ban on gay marriage, instead of ordering that the Commonwealth start allowing same-sex couples to marry immediately, the court ruled that the ban is unconstitutional but gave the Legislature 180 days to fix the problem. I’ve yet to read any report that tells what happens when 180 days go by and the problem hasn’t been fixed, which, as you know if you live in Massachusetts, is exactly what’s likely to happen. This isn’t to say the Legislature will never address the issue, only that I’d happily give you 10 to 1 it hasn’t managed to pass legislation by the SJC’s deadline. (The Mass. Legislature couldn’t pass a resolution praising chocolate chip cookies and buttered popcorn with less than eight months of debate, backroom bargaining and some nasty strong-arm tactics from Tom “Who Me?” Finneran.)

What’s truly bad about all this, though, is not how long it’s gonna take Beacon Hill to address this matter, but how it’s going to do it. I see this going one of two ways. Best case scenario: The Legislature enacts some kind of bullshit, separate-but-equal civil unions law that satisfies the court and only pisses off the Neanderthals on the right enough to make for semi-entertaining talk radio (if you’re the kind of person who finds outright idiocy entertaining). More likely: The Legislature actually moves forward with a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, which would set civil rights back a good 100 years. One can only hope that such an amendment wouldn’t win the approval of the voting public, but that’s a head-in-the-sand kind of hope. People love to be mean and rotten and homophobic. They especially love to be hateful when they can claim they’re standing up for good old-fashioned traditional values. (Oh, yeah, gotta love those traditional values. Slavery. Wife beating. All that wonderful stuff we humans used to do before those crazy liberals took control.) So, no, unfortunately I don’t trust the voters to make the right decision on a gay-hating amendment any more than I would have trusted the voters in 1800 to make the right decision on a slavery ban.

What I’ve never been able to understand in this whole debate, though, is how is it that values of any kind are seen as justifying discrimination. Look, if your church thinks it’s bad to be gay, that’s your business. This is America. You’re entitled to be as ignorant and hateful as you please. You can even march through Skokie with signs proclaiming what an ignorant, hateful person you are (or, you know, if you’d rather use the euphemism “conservative” or “supporter of traditional values,” you can do that, too; we all know the code terms by now). But as long as you’re saying, these rights, these privileges (whether to do with taxes, rights of inheritance, hospital visitation … whatever) are reserved for people who are married, you can’t go saying you people can get married and you other people can’t. You can’t. Even though we have for centuries and will continue to, probably for a few decades. It’s wrong. It’s to do with this oddball notion our founding fathers had about equal protection under the law. So here’s what you can do: Get marriage out of the law. Don’t require licenses. Don’t offer rights to married couples. Just make it something you do in church or wherever, something that has personal meaning but no legal standing. (And then deal with the headaches that come up with couples split and there’s nothing in the law to say who owns what, who owes who support or who gets the kids, the dog, the fucking Sea-Monkeys.) Or make marriage accessible to everyone, regardless of whom they like to fuck and how. Seems like the latter approach is the more sensible to me. But that’s just me. And, I admit, I don’t have some hateful social agenda to push. Nor am I so insecure in my spirituality that I feel the need to thrust my religious beliefs on everyone around me. Weird, I know, but it’s working for me.

But what I do and don’t understand about gay marriage is irrelevant, really. What matters is what I do understand. And that’s the fact that no matter how wrong it is to deny gay couples the right to marry, the ever-enlightened Massachusetts Legislature and the oh-so-liberal Massachusetts voting public will conspire to do just that. Because they are ugly, ignorant, fearful people — just like the majority of Americans.

I know I’m raining on everyone’s parade here. And I’m sorry. But I just don’t think this is such a big victory. I think we’re still years and years away from making the law blind to sexual preference. It makes me unbelievably sad, but it’s true just the same.

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