Volume 73, Number 45 | March 10 -16, 2004


Legalize gay marriage now

Marriage is under threat in America. One only need visit a center for battered wives, look at the level of infidelity or note the 50 percent divorce rate to see that there are problems with one of society’s most important institutions. Letting two adults who love each other get married poses no threat. Legalizing gay marriage is more likely to strengthen the institution than anything else.

Last Thursday, 100 gay couples tried to get married in the Municipal Building in Lower Manhattan. About 1,000 supporters were outside the building near City Hall. This followed a Sunday City Hall rally, and thousands of gay weddings in San Francisco and New Paltz in the last few weeks, backed by courageous mayors, although not yet by courts, governors or state Legislatures.

It is a reasonable assumption to think that people who fight for the right to do something such as marriage will be more apt to take it seriously once they do it. Of course we may be wrong about that. Maybe gay and lesbian couples will manage somehow to surpass the divorce rate of heterosexuals. That’s really a side issue. The real question is on what moral basis can we continue to deny lesbians and gays the very real tangible benefits of marriage?

Gay marriage will be legal in Massachusetts starting May 17. Even if that state’s Legislature agrees on language banning gay marriage, such an amendment would take at least two years to pass. We know the sky won’t fall in Boston in the next two years, and we suspect the Commonwealth’s people will come to the same conclusion and ultimately decide not to codify discrimination into their constitution.

In the meantime gays in New York and around the country will no doubt go to places like Provincetown in what might be called the “Summer of Marriage.”

Eliot Spitzer, New York’s attorney general, says that since New York is one of 12 states that doesn’t have what some call a “marriage protection law,” gay marriages in Massachusetts will be legally recognized in New York. It will be up to New York’s courts to decide if Spitzer is right, since they will have to decide about New Paltz and other legal challenges to our state’s marriage laws.

President Bush’s call to use one of the greatest documents in the history of the world, the U.S. Constitution — which has continued to evolve to grant people like, oh, women and blacks more rights — to discriminate is reprehensible.

Polls today show about two-thirds of Americans are against gay marriage. Some of that opposition, however, appears to be soft, since about half are against amending our Constitution. And younger Americans are much more likely to support same-sex marriage, indicating support will grow with time.

The courts shouldn’t wait for the polls. It is their job to step in when rights are being denied, despite what the majority may think. Democracy is based on majority rule, but protecting the rights of minorities is also fundamental to democracy. Did black children in Little Rock have to wait for the Arkansas Legislature to decide they were entitled to an equal education?


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