Today’s victory: What it all means

(Bumped. - promoted by Charley on the MTA)

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.

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19 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Oh, Charley

    You've quickly become one of my fav bloggers in the Massachusetts scene. This kind of post is one of the reasons why.

    I especially love - and agree with - your second to last post. It's a nice summarization of today's big impacts.

  2. Democracy

    One critical part that so many people seem to gloss over: This wouldn't have happened without electoral politics.  Sure, some legislators changed their votes because of visits from families, letters, and so on - and without that, we would not have won today.  That's the part that's easy to see, that the papers and the bloggers write about.  But even more votes were won over the tradiational way: elections.  This came in three forms:

    1. Some legislators retired or took other jobs, and these open seats were filled with new pro-equality legislators.
    2. A few sitting anti-equality legislators were defeated at the polls and replaced with new pro-equality legislators.  All sitting pro-equality legislators who were challenged by anti- won their re-elections.
    3. As a result of #2, a number of legislators who were ambivalent, or who felt they were voting their constituents' opinions, or were simply trying to take the safe path, switched because they saw that voting against equal marriage would be a political liability, and voting for it could protect them.

    That's democracy as it should be.  It took a tremendous amount of work by many people: candidates, staffs, volunteers, donors (and yes, some support from bloggers :).  It took victories and near-victories and frustrating dissapointments, it took people willing to put their entire lives on hold for months or longer to run for office, it took hundreds of thousands of voters going to the polls in primaries and little-known special elections over the course of four years.

    That this is being glossed over, forgotten, or left unmentioned is unfortunate.  It may feel better to think about the power of citizen lobbying, of the kind of civic engagement you write about in this post, but the fact is that both are required for a victory like this.  The bottom line is, under our system, a political movement that doesn't engage in electoral politics is a powerless movement no matter how passionate, engaged, and moving it is.  There is now way this could've happened without those campaigns and those votes.  Emphasize that.

    • Very good point

      And our electoral work is certainly not done yet.

    • left unmentioned

      I never expected that I would be able to say everything that needed to be said in one post. But if you turn this into a user post of its own I'll promote.

      • not just you

        I'm reacting to what I see everywhere.  In the news, all over my LiveJournal friends' list, in conversations I hear, and other places.  Almost everyone is leaving out the electoral politics: it's apparently not glamorous and beautiful like these kinds of heart-changing stories are, it's dirty and something people would rather not think about, or don't realize they're not looking at.

        However, to see that even here on a clearly political blog, where everyone's interested in politics, definitely emphasized the point to me.  And it's not just a matter of "not including everything" - this point is key.  However far you'd whittle down the list of things to mention, not mentioning this point makes the list glaringly incomplete.

        I think what this really shows is not actually a flaw in your post, but just a very clear illustration of how endemic the anti-political point of view is in our culture (which is the main reason our democracy is so broken).

        • Great.

          So when's that post coming? Or do I have to do it myself?

        • You are right Cos

          The "stories" told were an essential part of this win however, there were many other parts too.  The danger we face here is that if allow the "warm and fuzzy" aspect to re-write the history of the marriage equality fight, we will be in trouble in the rest of the nation.

          I think that VoteOnMarriage said it best when they said, "There is a war going on."  And in this war there are many generals, many tactics, many strategies and many many fighters. 

  3. three small possible addenda-

    -There is, in fact, a clearcut way for the opponents of gay marriage to get a reversal.  They would have to go the SCJ and prove material harm to real persons arising from the specific fact of legal gay marriage.  Despite the loud claims of the opponents, not a single particular example or even a relevant statistic has been forthcoming.

    -Survey USA polling had gay marriage polling at 52% in favor, 42% opposed and 50% in favor, 40% opposed among Massachusetts voters in the past three months.  The will of the people of Massachusetts is obvious and the state legislature did not defy it.  There is no doubt that support of gay marriage will grow further, and any further efforts to ban it in Massachusetts will fail.

    -It's Over in Massachusetts.  It's Over.

    • Regarding your first point...

      ...opponents of SSM would have a very long row to hoe to find a plaintiff that has standing--that is, that has been injured by same-sex marriage.

      That's the point, isn't it?  That same sex marriage injures nobody.  We've been in the Boston area for over 25 years, and we have yet to see the sky fall.  Even after the SJC's Goodridge decision.

    • is it over?

      After a well-deserved rest, I'm sure Mass Equality will begin to prepare for the potential next battle -- federal. 

      I'd like to see video of MA conservative couples who "flipped" over the last few years, which have to be a fair number, given the polling data --

      Something along the lines of

      "Well, I was not in favor of the gay marriage.  Plus I didn't like how it happened here in Massachusetts -- the Court ordered it.  I believe marriage is a man and woman blah blah blah blah, my wife and I are staunch Republicans, deacons at the church, etc etc etc etc etc).....BUT, after a few years, I realized 2 things.  A) Sky is not falling, and B) I met a couple gay families...."

      • yes, that's likely

        It'll be a while before recuperation is complete, which may be a good thing.

        The defensive battles federally are already decided- the FMA isn't going to happen, and the long ignored Largess v SJC federal lawsuit has established that states can legalize gay marriage.

        Nationally, swing voters don't want to deal any further with gay marriage just yet, though in Blue States they evidently approve of incrementalism in the form of various forms of civil unions.  I think national Democrats will pressure the likes of MassEquality and the Massachusetts legislature to desist from repeal of the '1913 law'- and the slew of lawsuits that will follow, which lead to the US Supreme Court- until just after the 2008 election.

        I think that means some continued concentration of effort here to help the likes of Gayle Canderas, if she gets into some trouble with her voters, and to further diminish the anti-marriage faction numbers in the legislature in the next election.  But the focus of the next year or two might be in helping out activists in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine achieve upgrades in rights.

        In New York State gay marriage legalization and a slew of other state level improvements and reforms are held up largely via a four seat Republican margin in their state Senate.  (Not that their Democratic-run state Assembly is much better on the merits, but without a partisan stalemate between the chambers they have no excuse for maintaining the highly corrupt status quo.)  That situation is just begging for Marc Solomon's talents for the '08 elections....

        • one last thing, no two

          i'm guessing that you're right about there being political pressure from the national scene not to repeal the 1913 laws.  however, a slew of gay people from outside of MA have gone to Canada, The Netherlands and beyond to get legally married, so really the quivers over the repeal of the 1913 laws is a straw man.  so, i think it should be repealed forthwith.

          however, there is something totally noncontroversial that the legis can do immediately, and that is amend the MGL to make marriage between two consenting, non-consanguine adults explicitly legal.  then we can cork the talk about it being a judicial mandate.  i mean, the votes are clearly there at this point, and the governor would sign.  what are they waiting for?  ok, ok, they deserve a break for their fantastic work yesterday.  it'll give them until tuesday. :)

  4. Bernstein got one thing wrong

    Rep. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) was a strong NO vote. He has voted No for the past several votes either on this amendment or voting the pro-marriage position with respect to adjourning. We should be proud of his votes.

  5. For the benefit of any out-of-staters who might be reading....

    ...I am a married person in Massachusetts. I've been a married person in Massachusetts for more than 20 years. I know many other married people here. Gay marriage has not negatively affected any of our marriages IN ANY WAY. I am utterly baffled how anyone could argue otherwise.

    I know straight couples who got married since the court decision. They've not been deterred in their own committed relationships! They're still choosing to marry here and have kids. It's all fine. The only thing that's happened here is to broaden the number of people in loving, committed relationships who can choose to marry. What's happened here has brought joy as well as legal protection to even more people. It hasn't taken anything away from anyone else.

    It's nothing new that the state will recognize a broader class of marriages than some religious leaders would be willing to perform. A number of clergy would refuse to perform a marriage if the couple is of a different religion. That doesn't mean the state should refuse to recognize such marriages! Religious and secular marriage have long had some different rules. This is nothing new, this happens precisely because our government isn't supposed to be in the business of interpreting the Bible.

    As for the sperm and egg argument, well, unless you're going to start giving fertility tests along with blood tests, that doesn't hold water. Are we going to refuse to allow senior citizens to marry? Are we going to require all women to sign a pledge stating they'll procreate before allowing them to marry?

    Yes, "starting a family" has long been a major reason for marriage. Don't worry out there, it still will be for many. But it's never been the only reason to marry, and the state has never been in the business of making sure two married people can create a child through their own physical relations.

    It's all OK here, everyone.

    • straight couples

      I know straight couples in other states who have wavered about getting married, or decided to put it off, because they do not want to partake of an institution not available to everyone else.  I know straight couples in Massachusetts who have been encouraged to get legally married because of legal gay marriage, for similar reasons.

  6. Seen on the Internet

    Loving for All, by Mildred Loving

    • wow, i hadn't seen that!

      thanks for the link!  mildred loving has generally stayed out of the limelight since her husband's death.  what an honor and a pleasure that she would come forward now and in a completely inclusive way.  thank you mildred!

  7. Amen.

    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.

    Hear, hear.  This, above all other aspects and facets of the discussion is what draws tears to my eyes. Public service has the potential to be the most honorable and impactful service of all, but too often puffery and the outward signs of honor are all that are sought and too little are efforts at real discernment on the part of the media gatekeepers.  We do not often practice politics and we less often see real governance but rather the art of blandishment and suasion in service, not to each other, but to ego and to money and to the thinnest veneer of a semblance of respectability...

    I doesn't have to be that way. 

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