Though currently only Massachusetts recognizes committed same-sex couples as “married” in a legal sense, the political battle over gay marriage has already been fought and won. It is now simply a matter of time.
Like stranded Japanese soldiers lost in the Pacific after VJ Day, the only people still fighting this war are those cut off from reality, unaware that they’ve lost, and resorting to whatever desperate final tactics are left to them in their willful isolation.
Less than a month ago, the Oregon Legislature completed the process of approving a bill that, among other things, would grant committed same-sex couples “domestic partnership” status statewide, a parallel legal structure giving them all the same rights and protections as married opposite-sex couples, with the exception of the right to use of the word “marriage” itself. Governor Kulongoski signed the bills last week, and they were meant to be effective January 1.
Oregon, like Connecticut, has the distinction of establishing relationship protections for gay people without being ordered to do so as the result of a lawsuit. California tried it in 2005, but Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill, saying marriage was an issue to be resolved by the courts. (I’d love to have read the email he received moments later from Karl Rove.) When judges in other states fulfilled their constitutional obligation to protect the civil rights of their citizens, they were lambasted by conservatives purportedly outraged by this affront to democracy. Adopting the phrase “activist judge” as a political mantra and promoting their theory of “strict constructionism” even as they failed to realize that an independent judiciary empowered specifically to act contrary to the will of the majority is one of the lynchpins of democracy, while choosing to ignore that gay folk have constitutional rights, too, the anti-fairness movement claimed that gay people were not entitled to redress by the courts.
Anti-equality court briefs on the marriage issue repeatedly stressed (in Washington, New York and New Jersey, for example) that the courts simply didn’t have standing on this issue, that marriage has historically been regulated by the legislature, to which the court should defer. (Washington and New York bought that argument.) But now that legislatures are independently acting on behalf of their disadvantaged constituents, desperate bigots are left to claim that no, in fact, civil rights should be decided by popular vote, demonstrating that they have no concept of what the phrase “civil right” actually means.
Predictably, a group has formed in Oregon to put this new law before the voters. Calling themselves Defense of Marriage and Family, AGAIN!, the group is attempting to gather the 55,179 signatures required to turn this into a referendum for the November 2008 ballot. (Hmm…isn’t there a Presidential election around that time?) This would also automatically put the law on hold until after the election, further delaying already long overdue recognition.
Marilyn Shannon, a former state senator (R-Quelle Surprise), explained to The Oregonian that the new laws “defied the intent of Oregonians who voted for Measure 36, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2004 that declares marriage legally valid only between a man and a woman.” It’s a flimsy argument, since the bills approved by the Governor and the Legislature establish “domestic partnerships,” not “marriage,” so it’s clearly within the letter of Measure 36’s law. But Shannon is right: it does defy the intent, which was to trivialize the meaning and dignity of relationships formed by gay Oregonians.
Arguing that the state’s legislature is controlled by “Portland Democrats,” Shannon said, “You cannot believe how upset the voters are that Portland pulled this off.” (The bills passed with a substantial majority, 34-26 in the House and 21-9 in the Senate. “Portland Democrats” apparently don’t represent actual voters, or maybe liberals only count as 3/5 of a person.)
How upset are they, and why? Yesterday I attended a Memorial Day barbecue with two couples, one male couple legally married in Canada who have been together for several years, and a lesbian couple, both educated, sophisticated professionals who’ve been together long enough to raise two daughters now in high school. What difference will it make in Marilyn Shannon’s personal life, how will her day be impacted, if these couples – and their children -- receive the same kind of recognitions and protections extended automatically to any heterosexual couple? For all intents and purposes, these people are already married. Why should Shannon care if the government chooses to recognize that simple fact?
Research shows clearly that public attitudes toward same-sex marriage are changing rapidly. What strategy will be left to conservatives once anti-gay initatives start failing at the ballot, as happened in Arizona last November?
Yesterday I confronted a young woman in the parking lot of the Beaverton Fred Meyer. She had a “One Man + One Woman” bumper sticker on her car, so I followed her into the lot, parked next to her got out and said simply, “I find your bumper sticker offensive.”
She was taken aback, and said simply, “Oh…sorry.”
Afterward I felt bad, thinking perhaps I had been unnecessarily intimidating. But then I changed my mind. I am not some abstract issue floating around the ether for random people to pontificate about on the back of their car. I am a human being. I am a tax-paying, church-going, voting American citizen. Just where do you get off advertising to the world that you think your relationships deserve government protection and mine deserve scorn and derision? Perhaps when people start to realize that gay folk aren’t just “out there” somewhere, that they’re in the car behind them at the Fred Meyer parking lot, when they start to confront the idea that gay people are REAL and have families and children and relationships, just like anyone else, they will rethink some of these positions.