In the 1700s, when the world’s intelligentsia were jawboning the proposition that all men are created equal, it was the good people of Massachusetts that lit the fuse on the thing and got it on. The result was the American Experiment, a new paradigm and a shining beacon to so many in the years since.
The next great civil rights battle was the abolition of slavery. It is not widely known, but Massachusetts was at the vanguard of this fight as well. Our commonwealth’s supreme court declared in 1783 that black people and white people are both people, not property, and in doing so we became the first state to outlaw slavery. Massachusetts remained a center of the abolitionist movement through the awful Civil War which finally ended the infernal institution for all Americans.
More recently, Massachusetts instituted a framework that moves towards covering all residents with health insurance. While many (including me) agree that it is a deeply-flawed framework, it does go some distance in providing us with health care that is closer to that found in all other industrialized countries. Our success with this experiment (and perversely, the fact that it was championed by a Republican governor) gave our elected Democrats a little courage to implement the improvement nationwide.
Yesterday we witnessed another national paradigm change sparked, I believe, by Massachusetts’ trailblazing: the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Six and a half years ago I heard the news while driving home, that our Supreme Judicial Court had ruled that gay marriage was legal. I figured it wouldn’t last long, that too many folks would flip out. Fortunately I was wrong. After a few months of wailing from a few, and regularly-scheduled hate rallies by the Mitt-Flopper, everyone realized that all was well and equality was a done deal.
In the past few years since the SJC ruling, many, many Americans have shifted position on gay rights – most now are in favor of gay Americans serving in the military, and half are in favor of gay marriage. I believe that Massachusetts’ acceptance of gay folks as being every bit the equal of heterosexual folks was key in moving the ball forward – America saw that our commonwealth is still doing fine, and realized that it’s OK to do the right thing.
So tonight I toast the good people of Massachusetts. I’m not sure if it’s the water, the schools, or the crummy weather, but for more than 200 years we have lit candles in the darkness and showed America the way towards progress.