The top court in Massachusetts just tossed out a ban on gay marriage in Massachusetts and have ordered the legislature to fix it within 180 days. The kicker is, they specifically stated that Vermont style Civil Unions would not satisfy the court's concerns with the law. Simply put, seperate but equal ain't enough. Hawaii and Alaska both saw the same thing, but each were able to get amendments passed. Although an amendment to the State Constitution would probably pass, it also seems like there is enough support in the state Senate to prevent it from getting out of convention. What's more, procedures in Massachusetts would prevent such an amendment from taking effect until 2006, at which point the genie will be decidedly out of the bottle.
I'm frankly stunned at this. It's been hanging for about 6 months as the Court considered the case, a really extraordinary length of time for deliberation. Moreover, I was expecting the court to take the stance lower courts did, that this is an issue that is best left to the legislature. I kinda agreed with that, too, but never very strongly. I am deeply concerned about what damage could be done to the movement for gay rights by too much coming too soon. I mean, the Supreme Court only recently decided that having consentual gay sex was a protected activity, and even THAT caused an outrage. I worry that more mainstream unease with homosexuality could be ignited if the marriage thing came too quickly. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore how many extraordinarily important changes took place in this country because the courts stepped in. Indeed, the only important change in civil rights that took place without the courts was the abolishing of slavery, which the Supreme Court got very, very wrong. They got segregation wrong, too, but they also took the opportunity to fix that. Sometimes, that is the only way for change to take place.
I guess my concern is that I don't think this is the only way to break down bans on gay marriage. I think it is increasingly clear that things are moving overwhelmingly in the direction of supporting gay rights, and it may well have happened within a decade or two on its own. If, however, constitutional ammendments are passed, that will make things MUCH more difficult. Especially in the thankfully unlikely event that a federal ammendment gets passed. But, even gay marriage opponents don't think that's a good thing. A few of them aren't as hypocritically conservative as others.
Former Rep. Bob Barr, for instance, is at least consistant to his philosophy. Hardly a friend to the gay lobby, he is the guy who spearheaded the stupid fight for the Defense of Marriage act. But, he's at least being consistant. The DOMA allowed states to refuse to recognize gay marriages performed out of the state and denied federal benefits to gay partners. Seemed like a much ado about nothing, at the time, but it seems Barr has a soft touch. He's an ardent federalist, and doesn't like the idea of meddling with the constitution to either restate what the DOMA already does or more importantly, forbid states from setting their own marriage laws as they sit fit. He is, it seems, one Republican who really means it when he says "State's Rights". He doesn't just want it when it serves his idealogy. I still think the guy is dead wrong, but I do admire ideaological consistancy like that.
But, for now, a huge victory for gay marriage may be 180 days away. I just hope it isn't a prelude to a lot of huge setbacks.