Friday, June 15, 2007

Marriage Rights Are Not Optional

OUR VIEW: Marriage rights are not optional
Editorial Southcoast Today
June 15, 2007 6:00 AM
What courage. Massachusetts senators and representatives stood up bravely for civil rights yesterday when they voted against a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

The vote to kill the amendment before sending it to the voters recognizes that civil rights should not be subject to the vagaries of public opinion. The Supreme Judicial Court made its ruling on the basis of equal treatment under the law, and the Legislature affirmed the court's bold decision.

We, too, affirm that discrimination should not be written into the state Constitution.

The SJC and the Legislature have learned from history about the importance of courts in protecting civil rights. If the Supreme Court had not ruled against school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, forced segregation might still be the law in the South, especially given the news this spring that a public high school in Georgia was holding an integrated prom for the first time.

Times like these show American government at its best and remind us why the founders of our country wisely gave us a representative, not popular, democracy.

We understand that many opponents of gay marriage are thoughtful people who object on religious grounds. Religious communities still have the freedom to decide which marriages will get their blessing, but civil marriage must follow the rule of law. And the law bans sex discrimination, which is all that remains when one subtracts politics from a debate over who can marry whom.

We wholeheartedly commend every legislator who voted against the amendment, especially those from the SouthCoast delegation: Sens. Joan M. Menard, D-Fall River; Mark C.W. Montigny, D-New Bedford; and Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton; and Reps. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford; Stephen R. Canessa, D-New Bedford; Robert M. Koczera, D-New Bedford; John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth; William M. Strauss, D-Mattapoisett; and David B. Sullivan, D-Fall River.

Some observers will say that politics won the day, as powerful Democrats brought their influence to bear. U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly called state legislators to ask them to vote against the amendment, and Gov. Deval Patrick has voiced strong support for gay marriage.

Those and other changes, such as the election of Sen. Therese Murray as Senate president and the departure of her predecessor, gay-marriage opponent Sen. Robert E. Travaglini, played a role.

Lawmakers were no doubt influenced by the more than 8,500 same-sex couples who have joyfully wed since the SJC decision took effect in 2004. As gay-marriage supporters are fond of saying, the sky has not fallen. Nothing bad has happened as a result of gay marriage.

Rather, thousands of couples have taken advantage of the legal protections of marriage, as well as the personal satisfaction that comes with declaring their commitment in front of family and friends.

Not all will choose to marry, just as some opposite-sex couples choose not to marry. But those who want to marry will no longer feel like second-class citizens among their married neighbors, at least with regard to state law. Federal law still blocks same-sex couples from equal treatment for federal legal and financial benefits, including Social Security. More work lies ahead.

On the state level, now that the Constitutional Convention is behind us, any threat to equal marriage should be nothing more than a fruitless Statehouse lobby.

Today, Massachusetts should be proud. Who wouldn't want to be the first to end slavery, or segregation, or the denial of voting rights? History will remember that we were the first to end generations of private suffering among same-sex couples who were denied the right to marry.

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