Wednesday, January 10, 2007

We Deserve Better.....than we got

I wrote a column, which will run in this week's Medford Transcript. Here it is.....

The Lowest Common Denominator

By Judah Leblang/2007
Word count: 700

Just two days before Deval Patrick’s inauguration as our first African-American governor, a shameful event took place, orchestrated by the outgoing Governor Romney, as he positioned himself for his presidential run. After numerous delays, chiding from the Supreme Judicial Court, and extreme pressure from our outgoing governor, our legislators finally voted on the anti-gay marriage amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution, an amendment that would “protect” the sanctity of marriage by forbidding 10% of the population from taking part. Though more than two-thirds of legislators voted against advancing the amendment to the ballot, a sizable minority voted to move it along, including Paul Donato, our local representative.

Unlike other states, same-sex couples in Massachusetts currently have the right to marry, and more than 8,500 couples have already tied the knot in state-sanctioned ceremonies. Unlike in other states, we have come to see that these committed couples are strengthening family ties, rather than weakening them. Has one “traditional” (straight) couple been truly threatened because some gay men and lesbians wed their partners? Has the social order truly been disturbed?

As some commentators have suggested, the biggest threat to “straight” marriage comes from divorce, since almost half of these couples eventually split up. Perhaps the Catholic Church and other foes of gay marriage should be focusing on that issue.

Divorce will never be outlawed; too many citizens have taken advantage of that civil right. It’s much easier to target a small, traditionally marginalized group—gays and lesbians—and foment fear of the “other.” It’s also a good way for politicians to score political points, especially among conservative and older voters.

And so, while Governor Patrick speaks of inclusion and his vision of Massachusetts as a great “city on a hill,” many of us live with the threat of exclusion, of a loss of our rights. While he reminds us of our great constitution, which has long been a symbol of freedom, 62 of our legislators decided to open the door to discrimination, by advancing the anti-gay amendment. If the amendment can garner just 50 votes next year (out of 200), it will appear on the November 2008 ballot, and my neighbors—the popular majority—can decide whether folks like me can maintain our right to marry, or whether we will lose that right, and be consigned to separate and unequal relationships in the eyes of the state.

Last summer, I spoke with Representative Donato about the amendment. At the time, Mr. Donato stated that he was undecided on the issue, but that he didn’t like the idea of “putting discrimination in the constitution.” And yet that’s just what he and others like him have done—made it more likely that, for the first time, our constitution, one of the first to outlaw slavery and provide civil rights to African-Americans, will be used to diminish the rights of another minority group.

The representatives who voted in favor of advancing the amendment have little to lose. After all, they’ll argue, they’re just allowing “the people” to weigh in on this issue. But the people, as we all know, need time in order to discover acceptance and tolerance. Imagine if civil rights legislation in states like Alabama or Mississippi had been subject to a popular vote in the 1960’s. Imagine if “the people,” (white people, who formed the majority), had been able to subvert the will of the courts. Finally, imagine if the rights of other groups were put to a popular vote today. Perhaps Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or the disabled should be allowed to vote, or marry, or own property. Perhaps not. Maybe their neighbors should decide.

We have representative democracy in this country, not one person, one vote. Our elected representatives are called to use their wisdom to benefit us all, and to protect minorities from the “tyranny of the majority.”

Thanks to our ex-governor and our state representative, the majority has been “protected” from the “threat” of gay marriage. Governor Romney and Representative Donato, (and 61 others) have carried on their tradition of appealing to the lowest common denominator by building on ignorance and fear. Way to go, Mitt. Way to go, Paul. Let’s see how the history books judge your actions.


Blogger bugfarm said...

Wow. Thank you. You've expressed the arguments that I've been circling around for months and ... perfectly. As far as I can tell, civil liberties of a minority have never before been put to a popular vote. Some legislators in Maryland are trying to do this, so I feel your pain.

Also, as a straight, I find it hilarious to imagine anyone thinking their marriage would be damaged if my gay friends were to marry. On the other hand, I believe what they're actually thinking is that homosexuality is evil and that anything done to legitimize or condone it represents a threat to the fabric of society, marriage included.

I'm discouraged at times, but I believe that eventually we will win equality for GLBTs and, as you suggest, future generations will look back and wonder why it was so difficult.

1:30 PM  

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