Tight vote looms on same-sex marriage

Thursday 14 June 2007

If you don’t live in Massachusetts, you may not know that same-sex marriage is not a settled issue here. The state legislature continues to struggle with the issue, in the form of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban the marriages that have been legal here for three years. The lobbying is intense: Tight Vote Looms on Same-Sex Marriage.

Of course opinions are heated, with one side insisting that citizens be given a chance to vote on the amendment (“Don’t deny me my right to vote”), and the other side insisting that civil rights shouldn’t be subject to popular opinion (“We don’t vote on civil rights”).

I side whole-heartedly with the same-sex marriage supporters. If fifty years ago, we had put racial civil rights to a popular vote, they would have lost. Do we think now that we should have let the populace deny blacks the rights we now take for granted? This is one case where we should protect rights from the tyranny of the majority.

If the amendment does end up on next year’s ballot, it will be a very ugly election season, with enormous forces flowing into the state to sway the vote. The battle today in Massachusetts will come down to lobbying and parliamentary maneuvering, which is unfortunate, but many noble causes have been won with such ignoble tactics.


Same-sex marriage IS NOT a civil rights issue. They keep trying to play that card. That fact of the matter is, everyone is held to the same standards of marriage. Marriage is and should be between 1 man and 1 woman.
Robert, I wish you could explain your position. It sounds like dogma. As much as the state has an interest in promoting stable family relationships, why shouldn't they promote them among same-sex couples? Why allow gays to adopt but not to marry?
They tried that same thing with interracial marriage, and that got thrown out.

And don't give me the "they can get civil unions" crap. We've tried separate but equal, too.

If it's not a civil right, why do we need laws defining what is protected?

There's no reason --at all-- to deny marriage to two people who love each other. The only reason anyone anywhere is against gay marriage is because they are homophobic (and/or trying to get elected).

For some reason some people seem to think that is homosexuals get to marry, the entire fabric of the space-time continuum will be rent asunder. Guess what? Homosexuals have been getting married for quite a long time now in Massachusetts, and space-time seems to be surviving admirably.
Dogma? It is dogma from the other side. Where does marriage stop? It won't stop there. If same-sex couples can marry so can multiple couples (polygamy). Don't say "won't happen", that is what they said when Roe v. Wade came down and there were warnings. "Won't happen" they said and now we have an entire industry catering to abortion (and I am not entirely against abortion either). It is just that slide we do not need to make as a society. It is all these little things adding up that, if it doesn't destroy America, is going to push us so far from our foundations as to be unrecognizable. You only have to look 50 years in the past to see where this country has gone morally (hint: it hasn't improved). Every aspect of society has gotten worse. Marriage in the whole breadth of civilization has been traditionally between 1 man and 1 woman. I wonder why that is? It is because that is the best way to promote a stable family and stable families are crucial to a healthy country and that is what we are naturally inclined towards. Families are deteriorating because of a determined attack to make them so. Marriage is special and should be protected. The MAJORITY of Americans believe it to be so. Why do you think that state after state is enacting DOMA laws voted on by the people? I am not even sold on the idea that letting them adopt is a good idea (and not all states do allow adoption). It is not a "civil right". That is dogma, as you put it, from their side to spin it in a more positive light. This country used to stand for something morally in the world. Now, bending our knee at the alter of "political correctness", we stand for nothing morally and the world knows it. You also have to go the road of whether same-sex relationships are healthy and I do not believe that (and religion isn't involved in that decision; just thought I would cut out the "religion" crap up front). I could go on and on but it would just be "dogma" or a "rant" because you can't possibly be against same-sex marriage without being a wacko.
Civil rights movement was about race which is a trait.

Redefining the word marriage is about behavior which is a personal choice. I don't understand why its so hard to understand that 'marriage' was a religious term looong before any US governments existed.

The fact that the government certifies marriages is another matter entirely, but I do not believe it or the gay 'rights' lobby has the right to redefine the term.

Give them all the legal benefits you want, but do not call it marriage.

See, he played the card. You *have to be* homophobic to not believe in same-sex marriage. Please.
I wuz gonna weigh in here, but I don't think that I have to. Carry on!

(for the record: I don't believe that the government has the right to sanction ANY marriage, hetero or homo. It just is not in the Constitution, sorry.)
I am really sick of all the semantic wars occurring over this topic. Many people view the word 'marriage' to hold a specific meaning of 1 man + 1 woman. Interestingly the current law does not explicitly state that. It is implicitly implied in the language of forms and records (taxes and medical chief among them). This has caused a number of legal issues and does need to be fixed. Some people I talk to would be happy to have a second term defined for same sex marriage and have that language added to all the laws and by-laws. That way the term 'marriage' remains the same, but same sex marriage (what ever semantic term you give it), has the same rights. The chief problem there is the cost. The Globe mentioned a price around 300Mil for that verses 40Mil for 'sex neutralization' of forms. (not sure where or how they got those numbers). This would also create a legal minefield and open the door for legalized separation and discrimination equal to what we saw in the 20's where women could not vote and anyone with a tan had to ride at the back of the buss. Interesting how black men could vote after 1870, but it took women 50 more years to get that right due to the semantic term 'man'. After all it does say 'All men are created equal'. Look how society and the moral fabric was harmed by changing that term! (that is sarcasm just in case you missed it).

I find it down right humorous that people feel that the US was some how morally superior 50 or 100 years ago. Rampant racism, sexism, not to mention the way we treated the 'retarded' (a word used to cover so many ailments it's laughable). Sex abuse, child abuse, and kidnapping were all just as prevalent (abduction more so). The moral compass was to ignore such issues.
@Robert: You're right about one thing, you are ranting. If you want to have a rational discussion about the issue, I'm sure Ned will accommodate you - he certainly has a history of that here, and his question to you was certainly a reasonable opening to that sort of discussion. While you're ranting like this, though, there's nothing anyone can say to you without getting into a flame-war. Of course, many people don't truly *want* to have a rational discussion of these questions, so if you are in that group this post will inspire another rant. *shrug*

Me? Like Ned, I completely approve of same sex marriage. And (somewhat like Andrew, though not to the same extent), I think the best solution might be for the government to get out of the marriage business altogether.
Yes, but you know the government is not going to do that and I don't think it would solve anything anyway as you would have to redo the whole societal fabric to accommodate that as well.

I do agree that society used to ignore such issues but now...we make video games and movies out of them and that is "ok".

I do not approve of same-sex marriage as I don't believe the underlying relationship is right on multiple levels. I am all for a conversation. But out of the box I get "dogma" (and he may have meant that in a less meaningful way than I took it and I apologize if I was wrong to assume) and/or you have to be a homophobe to believe it wrong. Those don't foster communication either.
Robert, it sounds like you don't believe homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle. If that is true, I completely understand why you would be opposed to same-sex marriage. I would disagree with you, but at least you have a world-view I can understand. If that isn't your position, please elaborate.

I don't see the connection between same-sex marriage and morality (unless you believe, as I do not, that homosexuality is immoral). And I don't see how anyone can make a blanket comparison of the nation's morality today vs. 50 years ago. Yes, we are more permissive than we used to be. But we also have redressed a number of wrongs since then (sometimes in the name of the hated "political correctness").
No that is my position. I can understand your position as well and I don't agree with it either. Even if I did agree with your viewpoint I would still not agree that it is a "civil rights" issue and that the people should decide what marriage is or isn't. That is what is happening in state after state and hence we have DOMA laws. That is where the majority in this country is at this point in time. Will it always be that way? Sadly, I don't think so and that bring me too your second paragraph.

I don't disagree with you on the last part of the second paragraph in the sense that yes we have redressed some wrongs but I see the "more permissive" part as a much deeper "cancer" that is going to keep growing. It pervades our entire society.

I am sorry about "blanket" comparisons. Blog posts tend to end up like that lest we write books on the subject. In place of "blanket", I might use "on the whole" or something similar.

Anyway, you know my view, and I know your view. : )
I'm all for any number of adults of any race or sex or genetic similarity bonding together to form a family unit that will work together for their own well being. I also don't think it should be called marriage for anyone. Marriage is a religious tradition and should no longer be part of a secular government - as far as the government is concerned it should be civil unions for everyone.

That said, I find the 'we don't vote on civil rights' argument very disingenuous. We vote on civil rights in the form of civil liberties all the time in this state. In MA I can't choose to shoot heroin, smoke cigarettes in a bar or drive without a seatbelt without violating the law. I don't find it that much of a reach for citizens to say what form of pair bonding they will tolerate.

Personally, I find all the efforts to curb civil liberties offensive.
Update: the amendement to ban same-sex marriage failed to win enough supporters: Legislators vote to defeat same-sex marriage ban.
"This is one case where we should protect rights from the tyranny of the majority."

To the other side, this is the tyranny of the minority.

Robert's comment #2 - "It won't stop there" - reminded me of a current US Supreme Court case:


Today, government workplaces. Tomorrow...? I agree with Robert that we are inviting disaster by leaving the door open: not from pro-same sex moderates, but from the radicals on this issue (who are the most frightening tyrannists of them all).
It is regrettable that the Legislature considers keeping the people from voting a ballot question (something that I -- a republican in the classical sense -- find reprehensible, btw) as a "Victory for Democracy". Maybe a "Victory for Constitutional Republicanism", but a stunning defeat for "Democracy".

I guess for liberals, "Democracy == good" and anything that liberals don't agree with MUST be anti-Democratic. After all, 100% of liberals agree!

Anyway Robert. I got sick of MA's shit and I voted with my feet.
Constitutional Republicanism will win when voters decide to re-elect only those individuals who represent their core beliefs faithfully.

If there really is a silent majority fuming out there in MA today, then we should see a LOT of new faces in the state legislature in '08. (All state reps serve only 2-year terms in MA.)

At least, one can hope.
When Martin Luther split from the Roman Catholic Church to found Lutheranism, one of the sacraments he dropped was marriage, since it was a civil institution in Germany before Germany became Christianized. And of course, King Henry VIII split from the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of defining marriage (and divorce) too.

I'm afraid the reason there is so much heat in this debate is not because of the cultural issues, but because there is real money at stake. Since we don't have national health insurance, it is customary for employers to offer medical insurance coverage for the employees and their spouses and children. Since we have the most expensive medical care in the world, this is an increasingly valuable benefit that the government does not (yet) tax. Expanding the definition of "spouse" means more money going to insurance companies (and in places tolerant of "gay marriage", many corporations offer insurance to "domestic partners" of emplyees). In addition to employment benefits, there are other social benefits (like community property) associated with marriage.

There were/are economic consequences to stigmatizing Blacks and other non-whites. There are economic consequences to stigmatizing gays (especially since anyone can be stigmatized as gay), and changing that means moving money around in our society. Which is why the better off places are more tolerant.
Cheers. MA legislators did the right thing today! I can not help but throw in that the often repeated logic--
"If same-sex couples can marry so can multiple couples (polygamy)."--is predicated on faulty logic at best. Sure, and next you can marry your dog or a turnip. It is just silly--not that I don't love a good turnip.

Anyway, "2 consenting adult humans" is pretty good.

And for those who think same sex marriage is destroying society, why is it that the divorce rate in MA is half that of Texas?
why is it that the divorce rate in MA is half that of Texas?
Mysterious action at a distance, of course. That's just how devious the homosexual agenda is!
One quick note: we are not nor were we ever intended to be a Democracy. That word does not appear in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

We are a democratically *elected* Constitutional Republic- ie. a nation of laws. Currently everyone is (should be) treated equally under the law: Any man can marry any women and vice versa no matter what their personal preferences may be.

People cannot marry plants, dogs, lighthouses, 10 women or people of the same sex. None of these are 'civil rights', they are 'new rights'. The legal issues should be addressed to be sure, but no ones 'rights' are being trampled here.

I agree with the earlier poster: a different term should be applied to the legal status of two people.

All civil rights are "new rights" when they are first recognized. If they were all recognized as civil rights to begin with, there would be no fight against them. Your arguments against same sex marriage sound very familiar to people of a certain age - before Loving v Virginia, nobody thought blacks and whites intermarrying was a civil right either. Any black man had the right to marry any black woman, and any white man had the right to marry any white woman, and everyone was treated fairly and equally under the law. Um, not so much.

You are absolutely correct about our Constitutional Democratic Republic, though. And people outside Massachusetts may get the wrong impression about this vote because of all the spin flying around, but the Mass Legislature complied perfectly with both the word and the intent of the Massachusetts Constitution by voting the way they did. The Constitution requires them to vote on all petitions, not once but twice. If the idea that "the people have the right to vote on the question" was accurate, the Legislature would not be required to vote on the question ahead of time. One can argue that the people SHOULD have the right to vote on any ballot question that gathers enough signatures (and that is how some states operate). But in Massachusetts the law of the land requires the Legislature to approve (specifically it only requires 25% of them to approve) any such question twice before it goes to ballot. So nobody was denied their right to vote on this issue - they never had that right to begin with until and unless (25% of) the Legislature approved the question.
Rob, thanks for the detailed analysis of the voting issues. Andrew: I wonder if these details change your mind about "MA's shit"?

Albert, about "the tyranny of the minority": what exactly is the minority forcing the majority to do? Is the majority being limited in some way? Are their rights being restricted? To this day, I have not heard a cogent description of the harm that would be caused by same-sex marriage.

How would you compare same-sex marriage today with the struggle 50 years ago for inter-racial marriage? Inter-racial marriage would have (and did) fail popular tests, and state laws outlawed it until the Supreme Court (40 years ago this week) declared those laws unconstitutional.
Its a legal issue to be sure, but I still maintain it isn't a civil rights case.

This isn't a particular group of individuals(ethnicity,race,etc) being discriminated against. It is a behavior which is not currently recognized as marriage under current statutes. Put another way: there is nothing that I am able to do that a gay man or woman cannot do. Its a stretch to say well if they cannot define marriage how they want to their rights are being denied. Nope, sorry that is a redefinition.

Behavior can definitely be treated differently under the law: its the reason the law exists. If you wish to change the law, thats fine just don't frame it as some kind of injustice or tyranny.

And I still think a different term should be used in legal contexts...

DavidM: could you please explain how your statement is different than this one that could have been made 50 years ago: "No one is being discriminated against: a black man can marry any black woman he chooses."

The fact is, there is something you can do that a gay man cannot do: marry the object of your affection.

And as far as a redefinition of marriage goes, we constantly overlook the most extreme redefinition: divorce. Opponents of same-sex marriage like to claim that it is the first time marriage has ever been redefined, why should we change something that's been constant for millennia, etc. But the advent of divorce changed the definition of marriage. Remember that "till death do us part" thing?

Marriage is both a religious and civil construct. The civil one has been redefined a great deal over the years: how old you needed to be, who got to choose who married whom, the permanence of the relationship, the races of the couple, and now the sex.

And as far as "current statutes" go: you should read up on the history of the Massachusetts case. This got started four years ago because some gay couples filed suit to be married because there was nothing in current statutes that said they couldn't. The state supreme court agreed with them. The fact is, these marriages are not prohibited under current statutes.
Hi Ned: My response to your first question is that a minority has subjected the majority to rule by decree.

Those opposed to the legalization of same sex marriage have been denied their right to a vote twice now, first by the SJC in 2003 and yesterday by the state legislature. A minority has forced the majority to accept this legalization (I don't say "law" b/c SJC is not a law-making body by definition) without recourse to either a representative or a direct vote.

By minority, I am *not* referring to pro-same sex marriage voters, supporters, activists, or lobbyists. I am referring to the group of 158 individuals (7 SJC + 151 winning majority in legislature yesterday) who have governed by decree.

The issue of same-sex marriage is irrelevant to the argument here (though not personally - read below) -- we could be trying to decide a man's right to marry a turnip, as one of your previous commenters put it. Fine, propose a law allowing a man to marry a turnip. Put it to a vote, and if it passes in the state of MA either by direct or representative vote, I will tolerate the sight of a man receiving health care for a root vegetable.

The same applies to same sex marriage. I will regard it as a law only when it passes by vote through the one branch of government which has the constitutional power to make law.
The fear that a bill will fail if put to a vote - no matter how noble the measure - is no excuse for bypassing that vote. That door, once opened, can swing both ways.

Response to your question #2: I see a huge difference between marrying a female of another race and marrying another male (of any race). Race and gender just aren't in the same category - biologically, socially, just about any way you can cut it (except judicially, in Massachusetts). That's my personal view - you don't have to agree with it or like it.

I don't like hypocrisy any more than you do, so I will apply my last sentiment from response #1 to the case of interracial marriage: I love having the freedom to marry a woman of any race in our country, but if in fact the U.S. Supreme Court overstepped its bounds 40 years ago (i.e., freely interpreted what is or isn't said in the U.S. Constitution), and if the day came that the decision was reversed, put to a vote, and interracial marriage banned again -- then I would have to accept it, even though I would have voted against it. The price of living in a country where all men are created equal, I believe, is that you don't always win your way.
-- but let every one fight a fair fight first.
Apologia: I admit my misunderstanding and defer to Andrew's clarification of MA constitutional law. No one was legally denied their right to vote in yesterday's defeat of the petition, no matter how displeased a portion of the voting populace may have been. It is left to them to express their displeasure at the ballot box in 2008.

I stand by my view of the dangerous precedent set by the SC justices -- where the overturning of a law has become a "law" in and of itself. Our elected legislature has the power to counterbalance the judicial and executive branches. Whether the voting public approves of their performance in this task will be seen in 2008.
Ned:"could you please explain how your statement is different than this one that could have been made 50 years ago: "No one is being discriminated against: a black man can marry any black woman he chooses."

Umm.. I can't marry a black woman(in those days) and a black man could. What part of that don't you understand?

"Object of their affections" - at least you admit its a redefinition.

As far as the statutes go, I see your point but it still isn't a 'civil rights' case.
@Albert: Yes, the 2008 elections in MA will indicate what the voters think of this. If you expect them to kick out their representatives, though, I think you're going to be disappointed. Since this issue has come up, there have been several elections in MA where a pro-same-sex marriage candidate ran against an incumbent who was anti-same-sex marriage. The anti-gay incumbents lost. Every time. The reason this petition was defeated is that the number of reps who opposed gay marriage has been dramatically decreased since 2003. The petition got 62 votes the first time, 45 this time.

Political strategy trivia: An earlier attempt that simultaneously established civil unions got more than 100 votes in '04. I don't know how many votes a similar measure would have gotten this time, because the anti-gay activists chose not to allow civil unions either. They did so knowing that this particular approach (a ballot petition) only required 50 votes, so they thought they didn't need moderates who would rather not allow gay marriage but who do insist on at least civil unions. Their insistence on not allowing gay couples ANY form of civil recognition cost them this fight. And it starkly indicated to people (reps) who were on the fence that this wasn't JUST a vote on marriage itself, it was a vote on the validity of gay relationships as a whole. Well over 2/3 of Mass voters support SOME sort of civil recognition of gay relationships, so the reps were voting with the people.
Hi Rob McDonagh,
Not having known until I read your comment that a ban on civil unions was tied into the ban on same-sex marriage in yesterday's petition, I am less surprised by the resulting vote. I must also retract my position that their vote did not reflect the general opinion of the voting public. As far as 2008 turning into a popular referendum on the single issue of same-sex marriage -- I will not be surprised if it doesn't happen. I'm paraphrasing Ned's comment over lunch that there are many other issues on the field and the marriage amendment isn't "hot" enough to stand out.

I am neither a bigot nor a homophobe. I have good friends who are gay, and I care about them equally and without distinction. It tears at me that if one of them were to get married tomorrow, I would be both truly happy for my friend (personally) and yet deeply troubled (morally) by the concept of their marriage. It is still a radical notion to me, and I can't lie and say I accept it in my heart. If the activists seek to pass same-sex marriage into law and succeed, so be it. But must their activism extend to coercing anyone who doesn't immediately agree with their position -- whether by labeling them an anti- or a -phobe, or through a hate speech lawsuit? Why can't they settle to coexist with those who choose to disagree?
Michael Maggard 4:26 PM on 15 Jun 2007
I’d just like to point out there were godmongers on both sides of the gay marriage issue.

However this isn’t a theocracy.

Marriage, in the civil context, is a specific legal construct.

Whatever anyone’s Elder Scrolls, Little Red Book, or flavor of Bible has to say isn’t particularly relevant. Nor what rituals may or may not be performed in churches, sacred groves, or in the presence of Tikis. Those are entirely the concern of that faith, creed, or affinity group.

It is as a`legally competent resident of Massachusetts, according to the duly authorized State Constitution (the oldest extant constitution in the world), I have a right to marry my legally competent partner. Nothing new, this right has been intrinsic to the state constitution since it’s inception, as judged by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts.

The Supreme Court didn’t go out and make this up. They are charged with understanding and applying the state’s laws. They were presented with a case challenging a refusal of marriage and they determined that there was no basis for such in law, that the plaintiffs were correct, marriage was & is every competent couple’s right.

The justices were then, unusually, asked by the state legislature if creating a special category would be permissible under state law. The justices then responded that no, there was no support in the state’s laws for singling out a category of persons for special limited rights.

A petition was then circulated and a bill written seeking to add discrimination in marriage to the state constitution. For such an amendment to be made it has to go through a rigorous legislative process. This process of changing the state constitution is intentionally difficult, slow, and complex, as befits alterations to the basic instrument of law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

That measure failed.

Now, I agree there is a fundamental issue with minority rights being approved by majority ballot, and that well may have been why many legislators voted against this. But it didn’t come to that, the legislators did their part and declined to allow the bill to progress.

The voting public may now exercise our part of the process in the next election cycle. But, as noted by others, no elected official who voted supporting gay marriage has yet to lose office. Presumably some will in the future, if only in the rise and fall of political careers, but the evidence so far has been that supporting gay marriage doesn’t harm one’s career`and opposing does.

This seems to reflect the view of the greater population. The trend is very clearly for supporting equal rights for LGBT persons throughout our society, supported particularly among persons 40 and younger. Therefore it is reasonable to anticipate that legislators anticipating extended careers will be mindful of lessons learned in the south during segregation and not wish to have their future careers hobbled by demonstrations of bigotry now.

The will of the people was not thwarted, for the will of the people is in the legislators we elect, the laws we have created, and by which we live. Those laws were respected, the process followed, and thus gay marriage remains legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with any attempts to challenge such necessarily starting anew.


I was fortunate enough to be in Vermont when Civil Unions were announced (Which I celebrated by unexpectedly performing two 360° turns at 55 mph on black ice on I-89S.) I was in Massachusetts having a tooth worked on when the decision supporting gay marriage came from the supreme court, and was back for a follow-up dental visit when friends started getting married. I was living in Quebec when gay marriage took effect in that province, whereupon my partner and I discovered ourselves (equivalent of) common law married.

Now I’m single, in Massachusetts, and loathe to relocate to a jurisdiction that does not support my civil rights. I’ve friends who’ve declined job moves for the same reason; that were they to leave Massachusetts their relationships would become unrecognized. I’ve been told this has become an issue in professional recruiting, that regularly desired talent refuses to relocate to some states on the basis of discriminatory laws.

Therefore I rejoice for myself, for my friends and our families, and for the health of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Speaking as a pro gay marriage conservative (no, that isn't an oxymoron) much of the heat over this in MA comes from the shady way SSM came about. The judiciary essentially passed a law and then the legislature avoided voting on a petitioned amendment when it was their explicit constitutional duty (oddly they were compelled to uphold the constitution by the same court that had just added to it by decree) until after elections were over. The vote to defeat the petition was secured by back room deals spending lots of taxpayer money to get representatives to flip votes to No.

In short an already contentious issue was made worse by Mass politics as usual. If the judiciary had just cooled its heels for five or ten years instead of kicking off a showdown we would all been better off.
@Jack: The judiciary does not pass laws, it interprets them, and only when a case is brought before it. And to call the overt lobbying to defeat this "back room" is disingenuous. It seems to me that, in fact, state officials actually did their jobs on this one.

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