More on Massachusetts and Marriage

Please don’t call me a wet blanket or a party pooper. I would love to run through the streets and shout with glee over yesterday’s landmark gay-marriage ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. But more than anything, I feel ambivalent.

Maybe I have been at this activism thing too long; perhaps I am tired of having my heart broken time and again because of religious intolerance and its stranglehold on secular law. But the painful memory of dashed hopes after the historic Hawaii court ruling is still fresh for me — and I’ve been covering the dangerously tenacious right-wing for far too long. The threat that faces justice seekers in the here and now is tangible; the possibility that this good news could be undone is too real. And the obstacles — massive ones — are coming.

Right now, jumping for joy is a luxury we can’t afford. There is far too much work to be done. I deal with this in depth on Open Source Politics; please do check it out.

But, having said all that, I must admit this: The ruling rocks.


Slate gets it right when it calls Massachusetts’ highest court’s majority opinion, which differs a bit from previous pro-gay-marriage court rulings in Vermont and Ontario, groundbreaking and even “radical.” The Catholic News Service even gets to the heart of the matter in its report:

Calling marriage “a vital social institution” that both “provides an abundance of legal, financial and social benefits” and “imposes weighty legal, financial and social obligations,” the majority opinion by Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall said the Massachusetts Constitution “forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”

The commonwealth, the court said, “has failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

“We are mindful that our decision marks a change in the history of our marriage law,” the decision said.

“Many people hold deep-seated religious, moral and ethical convictions that marriage should be limited to the union of one man and one woman, and that homosexual conduct is immoral,” it said. “Many hold equally strong religious, moral and ethical convictions that same-sex couples are entitled to be married, and that homosexual persons should be treated no differently than their heterosexual neighbors. Neither view answers the question before us.”

Damn right. The matter involves civil law — secular law — and whether all Americans should be equal under it. God has nothing to do with it.

Even so, in the spirit of a sports team thanking the Creator for a win on the court, the gridiron, or the diamond, if you happen to be a believer, it doesn’t hurt to send some gratitude upstairs. I could not help but be moved by a deeply felt show of emotion from the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, a New Jersey-based Episcopal priest:

Almost 27 years ago, my beloved and I stood in a courtroom in Bristol County,
MA, and defended ourselves in what we later learned was the first open lesbian custody case to be heard in that part of Massachusetts.

We lost. Initially. We did get what was described as “very generous visitation rights” – every other weekend, Christmas Day and Easter Day visitations, the entirety of every other school vacation, and the entire months of July and August with our children.

When we sobbed from our broken hearts, our attorney reminded us that just the week before, in Billerica, MA, a lesbian mom had not only lost custody of her three children, but the very nice but deeply shocked Italian judge in her case said she would no longer be able to see her children. Ever again.

It took five years – of educating the family court system, the judges, the guardian ad litum’s, and the social workers – about our family and the families of other lesbian and gay couples in order to get our children back. They’ve been with us ever since and have become fine young women and men – never, ever deprived of male role models or relationships (straight and gay, with their fathers and other wonderful father and grandfather figures).

All but one (our multiply handicapped Downs Syndrome Daughter) is college educated – three at Master’s levels, one on the path to her doctorate. Three are married. One has blessed us with the most beautiful granddaughter in the cosmos. All but one work in social-service agencies. Oh, yes. And one is Republican.

And now, 27 years later, same sex marriage is “allowed” in the State of Massachusetts.

I can scarce take it in.

Perhaps, now, there might be a chance that my beloved and I can look to retirement without fear and anxiety. Perhaps, now, we might be able to claim the other as beneficiary of Social Security when one of us precedes the other in death. Perhaps, now, the Church Pension Fund will allow me to name her as
beneficiary of my pension – before I retire – should I precede her in death. Perhaps, now, we will not be charged an exorbitantly high rate of inheritance tax on the property we jointly own because we are neither “related by birth or marriage.”

Our God is, indeed, an awesome God, a God of abundance and justice and peace.

I can scarce take it in.

If Rev. Kaeton’s God truly is awesome — and I believe she is — we ultimately will win this battle against fearsome foes. But God helps those who help themselves.

In other words, there is much that needs to be done if we want equality under civil law for all to become reality. Get to it.


I recommend that you grab some tissue before reading Salon’s compendium of stories from folks who dream of walking down the aisle legally and living happily ever after with their mates. This excerpt comes from a woman who — having refused the unseemly compromise of Jim Crow — finally made it legal with her wife in Canada:

As a young activist, I participated in marriage actions at City Hall, asking and being turned down for a marriage license. I thought maybe it would happen in my lifetime … toward the end. I remember the excitement when it looked like Hawaii was heading toward legalizing same-sex marriage, and I remember the frustration afterward when my straight pals would ask, “Well, can’t you marry somewhere — like Hawaii?” and I’d have to explain that no, Hawaii had amended its constitution to avoid allowing equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians. Then Vermont was compelled to offer equal rights to its queers — and predictably copped out with “domestic partnership.” No, I wasn’t surprised, and yes, it is a step in the right direction. But that doesn’t mean I would participate in such an insult — such a “Your water fountain is over there, dyke, but don’t make me watch you drink from it” kind of slap in the face.

Do read this. If you aren’t a Salon subscriber, grab the day pass. Yes, the ads are usually awful, but this time, the sponsor is PBS, and the ad features a gorgeous picture of Hugh Jackman from his performance in the musical “Oklahoma!,” which is airing on the “Great Performances” series this month. (BTW, it airs tonight on Washington, DC’s WETA-TV; the heartless bastards at Maryland Public Television won’t broadcast the performance until sometime in December.)

Imagine that… an enjoyable day-pass advertisement and a historic court ruling. Whatta day…

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4 thoughts on “More on Massachusetts and Marriage

  1. Hold the Bubbly

    Four Massachusetts justices struck a mighty blow for justice and family values today. But considering the right-wing’s virulent opposition to gay marriage, Natalie Davis warns that now is no time to celebrate — it is time for progressives to take action.

  2. I’m appreciating the significant step forward today, too. Besides being tempered by the knowledge that many more contentious steps will follow soon, it turns my stomach to listen to good folks playing politically expedient but cowardly hands.

    The folks who support glbt citizens on other issues know damn well that justice will ultimately wrap her arms around full equality. After watching the ugliness of DADTDP (don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue) play out in the military in a historically minute period of time, they’ve got to know that regret over and reversal of the various DOMAs are inevitable and just.

    Where’s Paul Wellstone when we need him, anyway?

  3. Hold the Bubbly

    Four Massachusetts justices struck a mighty blow for justice and family values today. But considering the right-wing’s virulent opposition to gay marriage, Natalie Davis warns that now is no time to celebrate — it is time for progressives to take action.

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