It is hard to disentangle the various threads and thoughts from today’s dramatic events, but I’ll try to lay down some markers as to what we’re left with.
- The constitutional process was followed; the legislature performed its proper and constitutional role of gatekeeper. “Let the people vote” was always a bankrupt slogan, using a spurious process complaint which disguised the unpalatable substance of the amendment. The legislature courageously considered its substance and consequences, and decided against it. Those are the rules, that was the game, done and done.
- A large supermajority of legislators — 75.5% — affirmed today that this proposed amendment should not be brought to a public vote. This is especially important for out-of-state observers to recognize, who may not be aware of the quirks of our constitutional convention system. The supporters of the proposed amendment did not simply fall short of getting a majority of legislators; they failed to clear a bar that was intentionally set low. In process terms, this was a narrow victory for marriage supporters, but the process itself makes it a resounding affirmation of the pro-marriage position.
- Today’s result also puts to rest the canard that it’s “activist judges” that have forced equal marriage on the public, usurping what ought to be legislative territory. Of course, we wouldn’t be here without the SJC’s 2003 decision; but we have affirmatively decided as a Commonwealth, through the people’s representatives, that we can at least tolerate its consequences — if not celebrate them outright.
- By all accounts, this was indeed a model of citizen engagement. Many legislators have spoken of people dropping by their offices to plead their cases. (See Sen. Gale Candaras’ very thoughtful letter on why she switched her vote from January.) For all that this battle may have been protrayed as MassEquality vs. Massachusetts Family Institute, apparently it was the real stories of real families that tipped the scales; It was the human impact that sensitized legislators to the high stakes involved. No lobbyist can buy that kind of influence; it can’t be faked or focus-grouped; it doesn’t fit into a 30-second TV or radio ad; it does not flow from the pens that write campaign checks. This is how we ought to do democracy, how we could make our voices heard, on any number of issues. Politicians make great efforts to meet ordinary people; see what happens when ordinary people make it their business to meet elected representatives?
- Related to that point: Putting myself in the shoes of Terry Murray, Sal DiMasi and Deval Patrick today, I was struck by how rarely these leaders would ever face a crowd that is downright jubilant over something substantive they’ve actually accomplished. I know people scream and swoon at campaign events, but this is different: Today’s rejoicing was the heartfelt reaction to the products of the very muddy, messy work of governing, which so often leaves the public confused and apathetic, and the press digging for some more exciting angle to play up. Lesson: Be our heroes. Give us something to cheer about.
- Politically, on the national scale, today’s events escort the issue of gay marriage “out of the closet”. I’m quite confident that because of the legislative affirmation of same-sex marriage, other states will follow suit: I imagine that over time, more liberal states will go directly to marriage itself, instead of civil unions; and civil unions will become the default “anti-Massachusetts” position in moderate-to-conservative states. In any event, it’s a positive trend for committed same-sex couples.
- Here’s how skittish Presidential candidates can answer the inevitable questions about gay marriage in Massachusetts, if they’re still uncomfortable endorsing it wholesale: “I respect the decision by the legislature of Massachusetts. I would not support any constitutional amendment that would take away people’s marriage rights in Massachusetts, or any other state.”
I’m sure I’ll have more deep thoughts later … much more from David B. at the Phoenix.