Sadly, in Massachusetts, we’re just aren’t there yet with full equality. As Chris Mason reminded us all recently, our state’s hate crime laws do not include statutes for gender identity. Therefore, the people who allegedly committed a hate crime in Lowell earlier this month may not be charged with a hate crime: they were using anti-gay epithets, the victim self-identifies as a transgendered woman. The law is fuzzy for this non-lawyer, so a hate crime may still be applicable, but it will certainly complicate something that should be very simple.
At Beacon Hill, there are two other extremely important fixes this state must make to protect marriage equality. Both, coincidentally, have to do with 1913. Everyone from MassEquality to Susan Ryan-Vollmar at Bay Windows has told me ‘we need to wait on reversing the 1913 law that bans out of state marriages, until after we get rid of the amendment.’ I disagreed – I thought it would be the perfect vehicle to drive momentum on the issue after January’s initial loss – but mostly bit my tongue.
Well, now we won. It’s time to collect on 1913. More than 75% of legislators agree that marriage equality must be protected, yet it’s still a separate-but-equal institution until the day any consenting adult can marry the person they love in Massachusetts, whether they’re from here or not… and that’s just not the case with 1913 around. Surely, 50%+1 of both houses would agree and can change it by the end of the summer? Heck, just think of the added tourism we could get from glbt visitors around the country wanting to tie the not?
1913 was a very, very bad year… not only do we have to suffer the racist and homophobic 1913 law, but the constitution was amended in 1913 as well. What was the amendment? It added a new provision that allowed people to gather a certain set of signatures and push ballot amendments onto the legislature that only required 25% of legislative support over two consecutive years to reach voters for a final say in changing the constitution. It was the amendment that got everyone worried this year – John Adams, in his wisdom, certainly didn’t include that POS in his heyday.
If we don’t repeal that amendment, 94 years too late, we’ll be exactly where we were yesterday three years from now: fighting for our rights. And if we aren’t, who knows what future amendment will find its way onto the Constituion, even if it’s racist or homophobic policy? Who doesn’t think 25% of state legislators couldn’t agree that English should be our official language? How about policies directed toward undocumented Americans? I’d rather not see that, so it’s time MassEquality and the like start arguing for constitutional changes that will actually protect rights instead of threaten them. Both 1913s must be repealed.
If we do those three things, Massachusetts will come a long way toward full equality. However, there’s only so much progress we can make on Beacon Hill, even if it is the Hub of the Universe: the rest of the challenges we face comes from our federal government. First and foremost, DOMA, the law that prevents our marriages from being recognized in most other states and prevents gay partners from receiving federal benefits, has to go. It’s time Massachusetts Marriages be Federally-Recognized Marriages and marriage equality be just that: equal in every way, shape or form.
There are two routes to take in destroying that vile piece of homophobic legislation – and I don’t know which will be easier. For starters, because of the Full Faith and Credit clause in the US Constitution, DOMA is almost certainly unconstitutional. However, until 1913 is repealed, it will be hard to challenge DOMA in the court. Furthermore, with the judicial system swarmed by uber conservatives, it will be hard to get them to listen. The second method is just as difficult: repealing it in the legislative arena. Not only is it an uphill battle, but it faces an almost certain veto by President Bush or any Republican who wins the next election. Heck, if the Democratic landscape doesn’t change and Hillary Clinton wins, can she be counted on signing a repeal to DOMA when her husband enacted the law to begin with – and she doesn’t support marriage equality either?
DOMA must be stripped. It has to go. The trees do make sounds – and so do our marriages; I heard the bliss loud and clear on the steps of the State House last Thursday, then on national blogs and CNN. It’s the only way to ever make marriage equality exist for everyone in this country. State Constitutions have stripped the rights to marry in 32 states, with another 17 banning it through basic law. To undo that damage, it would take decades of difficult, grassroots work. However, it may only take a few years to kill DOMA. Once DOMA is dead, at the very least people can get married in Massachusetts and have that marriage exist anywhere in this country – with all the rights and responsibilities that come along with it. Once the barrier is broken, too, surely more states will follow the Bay State’s lead.
There are also many other national acts that must take place. Some of them will probably get done sooner rather than later, like protections against workplace discrimination and an expanded national hate crime law. However, now that Marty Meehan is soon-to-be gone, we need some champion of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I’d like to think Jamie Eldridge would become that guy if elected, he’s already promised he would, but we need someone to be. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is especially bad because there are already tens of thousands of gay people serving in the military; everyone says we need to honor the troops, yet those tens of thousands are told they have no honor if they come out with pride.
In Massachusetts, we need to do what we can here – because we can have a far greater say in what happens. It’s our Commonwealth, after all. Our efforts can have a direct, immediate impact to everyone who lives in the Commonwealth’s borders. However, we also need to show how great marriage equality is – how the sky is not falling – because we have an entire country to convince on civil rights and we need as many allies as we can get. We need to make all the other changes this state can make, so we lead with authority. It will take a lot of hard work and many national coalitions to get DOMA and DADT removed. We have a part to play in that, but the best way we can help is to actively show how great equality is for everyone. We took a giant leap in that effort last Thursday, by ensuring equality for years to come. Now, it’s time to work toward finishing the job. We can do it. We can ordain and establish equality for all in the United States of America.