Sometimes I’m amazed that a full decade has already passed since gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts. Other times, I’m amazed that it’s only been a decade.
The political struggle triggered when gays began to marry here is seared in my memory as though it were last month. The State House was ground zero for that battle, and on days when the Legislature met to debate constitutional amendments to reverse the Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark ruling, it was like little I’d seen before or have since.
On an individual level, it was time of real introspection. Legislators and citizens had to ask themselves fundamental questions about what they believed and why, about whether those beliefs were just and fair and well-grounded. They had to ask, if marriage is good for me and my wife or husband and our children, why isn’t it also right for gays and lesbians? In quiet moments, lawmakers also had to assess what kind of risks they were willing to take on behalf of others.
It was an intense, emotionally charged, many-layered, multi-year struggle, but in the end, this state got it right. After a process that lasted until 2007, the Legislature finally declined to give a proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment the 50 votes it needed in two successive sessions before it could proceed to the ballot.
The struggle made one appreciate the wisdom of our state constitution’s amendment process, which allows enough time for immediate passions to subside and for lawmakers and their constituents to contemplate an issue over several years.
On a broader level, it also made me very glad for this country’s tradition of separation of church and state, for it was unnerving to see the legions of gay-marriage opponents who believed they had a direct line to God and were carrying out his will. There were times when groups of religious devotees stood in the State House halls with their hands reaching upwards, their fingers wiggling as though they were antennas picking up a celestial signal only they could receive.
Then there were the “religious” protesters who came from out of state to scream vituperation outside the State House. “You will rot in hell,” one supposedly Christian fellow, up with a church group from the South, yelled at pro-gay-marriage supporters.
One person in particular stands out in memory: Ruben Israel, a self-proclaimed street preacher who had traveled from Los Angeles to parade about in a sandwich board that turned the word gay into an acronym for “God abhors you” and who taunted gay men as “Sodomites” and “abominations” and told them they would die of AIDS. What in the world would motivate someone to traffic in that kind of vitriol?
“This is what I do,” Israel explained to me. “We are protesting sin.”
Did he have any friends who were gay?
He paused, apparently oblivious to my undertone, and thought for a moment.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. Ever wonder why, I thought of asking, but didn’t.
Another, milder-mannered protester told me he feared God would punish Massachusetts with a series of devastating natural disasters if gay marriage were allowed to continue. I sometimes wonder if the absence of same has led him to rethink his views.
“How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?” Charles de Gaulle once asked of France. How can you have a rational discussion of social issues in a country with those kinds of fanatics and fundamentalists?
And yet, consider how far we’ve come. It’s only been a decade — and look at the way, after its halting start here, the idea of marriage equality has spread across the nation.
In the relative blink of an eye, America has changed its mind on the issue. National polling regularly shows that a majority support gay marriage, which is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.
It was a fascinating period to cover, an interesting one to work through at the State House. There were times when events or utterances left you shaking your head. And yet, ultimately, this state asked itself the right questions and arrived at the correct answers.
It reminds me yet again of why I’m proud to call Massachusetts home.