Friday, June 15, 2007


Yesterday's victory for marriage equality in Massachusetts prompted me to revisit something I wrote back in October 2005, and rereading it I think it's still valid today:
Last month, a year or so after the Massachusetts Supreme Court invalidated the state's marriage laws (effectively establishing same-sex marriage in the state), the Massachusetts legislature voted 157 - 39 against a constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. This is a bill that passed 102 - 92 just last year. Meanwhile, polls show that something like 56% of Massachusetts residents approve of gay marriage--a huge turnaround in public opinion from a year ago. So what's changed since then? One thing: people in Massachusetts are now responding to the reality of gay marriage, instead of their preconceptions about it. Apparently, the reality isn't so bad, more Ozzie and Harriet and less Folsom Street than they envisioned....

All of which serves to undermine the position of people who, like Debra Saunders, argue that gay marriage should be established by referendum rather than by the courts or the legislature. Saunders, a libertarian-leaning Republican who is sympathetic on gay rights, misses the point when she argues that
Supporters of same-sex marriage should ask themselves if they want to win their cause without public support or -- even if it takes a little longer -- with public support.
Because the Massachusetts experience, like Executive Order 9981, shows that it doesn't always happen that way. Because prejudice is fear, and people naturally fear the unknown, and so to defeat prejudice sometimes you have to make them know the thing they feared instead of waiting for them to stop fearing it.
The struggle for marriage equality is really 50 different struggles in 50 states, and most of them aren't going to be much like Massachusetts. At the same time, the Massachusetts experience does show that countermobilization isn't a given, and makes a lousy argument against progressive change--especially where the long-term trend is overwhelmingly favorable to change.

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