Would Governor Mitt Romney or Attorney General Thomas Reilly call for a public or legislative vote to end slavery if it still existed in Massachusetts or the United States? Would Cardinal Sean O’Malley? Should the people — or their legislators — be heard? Is slavery still debatable?
SEGREGATION, ANYONE?: By pushing equal marriage rights back into the legislature, leaders like Romney, Reilly, and O’Malley are being soft on the hard bigotry of discrimination.
If women weren’t allowed to vote, would Romney, Reilly, and O’Malley think that the idea is so dangerous, so radical, that a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that women were, in fact, equal to men needs legislative review?
It’s a safe bet that we all know the answers to those questions.
So why are Romney, Reilly, and O’Malley calling for a public vote on the state Supreme Court’s ruling that couples of the same gender have the same right to marry as those of different genders?
In O’Malley’s case, the answer is clear. The Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage and there is little O’Malley, as a prince of the Church, wouldn’t do to abolish it. If the threat of hell won’t scare gay-marriage advocates into submission, he hopes that respect for constitutional practice and legislative procedure will do the trick. He’s invoking Caesar to render unto God, or at least his God. When God is on your side, civil rights are beside the point.
Reilly appears to have scored political points in the recent debate among Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls. He was, for once, articulate — at least in the eyes of some pundits. These days Reilly says he is foursquare in favor of gay marriage. But he believes there should be a legislative vote on the issue; and if he were in the legislature, he would vote against bringing the issue before voters. Those are weasel words. They appear reasonable, but their import is that he is willing to put same-sex marriage in mortal danger. He may be in favor if it, but he’s willing to entertain the possibility that it could be abolished. With friends like Reilly, who needs enemies?
Onetime insurgent Deval Patrick, now the Democratic front-runner, said he wished the vote would not be held (isn’t that nice!) and that he’s in favor of gay marriage. But he believes the legislature should call its own shots. A waffle is a waffle by any other name.
Wild-card candidate Chris Gabrieli was equally disgraceful. Another “supporter” of equal marriage rights, he dodged the issue. When offered an opportunity to define how he differs from Patrick and Reilly, Gabrieli, to his shame, flubbed it.
There was a time and place for public debate and legislative consideration of gay marriage. It was yesterday.
For years, the legislative leadership killed prospects for any serious consideration of the issue. When civil-rights activists tried to gain legislative momentum for gay civil-unions rather than for full marriage rights — in the belief that a half a loaf was better than none — they were rebuffed.
But all that changed when the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which more than 200 years ago was the first in the nation to outlaw slavery (without any subsequent public vote), ruled that gay couples were equal to straight couples and that, as such, they had the same rights.
That’s why this talk of the people needing a voice, of the legislature needing to act, is vile hypocrisy.
Gay men and lesbians who wanted to enjoy the same legal benefits of marriage as their heterosexual brothers and sisters turned to the courts in frustration. And there is ample and painful precedent for their action: it took scores of federal-court decisions in the mid 1950s and ’60s to bring the promise of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865, to fruition.
Where would the civil-rights movement have been if Tom Reilly had been in the fight? It’s a safe bet that the schools of Little Rock, Arkansas, still would be segregated.
When legislative redress is denied, the courts ensure our civil liberties, our basic rights. And that is what gay marriage is: a basic, fundamental human right.
No thanks to most political leaders, equal marriage rights have finally become law in the Commonwealth, due to the agency of last resort — the judiciary. Legislative adoption of marriage rights would have undoubtedly been preferable. But that is wishful thinking — and now beside the point.
Reilly and O’Malley are latter-day Jim Crows: Reilly because of his political desire to have it both ways, and O’Malley because he is promoting redneck theology as a public practice. Romney, of course, is busy actively courting Jim Crows throughout the land.
It’s time for Patrick and Gabrieli to unequivocally say that the issue of civil rights — marriage rights — for gay and lesbian couples was settled by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. That any effort to interfere with those rights is as repugnant as it is undesirable. And with that, they should urge the legislature not to vote on the issue again.