On Tuesday, when Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage was the latest to be overturned by a federal judge, gay marriage had become legal in every state in the Northeast. "We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history," wrote U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III in issuing his decision.
Ten years ago, Massachusetts became the first state to toss a government ban on gay marriage into history's ash heap. Ten years later this continues to be a proud achievement for a state that has been at the forefront of the fight for fairness and civil rights since its founding.
The state Supreme Judicial Court made the momentous ruling legalizing gay marriage, and when a movement began to overturn that ruling through a constitutional amendment, the hottest of hot button issues was thrown into the Legislature. Lawmakers are not elected to be rubber-stamps, and in a republic, which is what the state and nation are as opposed to a pure democracy, they are expected to use their judgment. In this case lawmakers decided that it was not their business to deprive anyone of newly awarded civil rights and the anti-gay marriage amendment did not win the votes it needed to make the ballot. It was a proud day on Beacon Hill.
The debate over that amendment featured a total breakdown of the separation of church and state, as religious officials, most notably the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, intruded on the debate. Even though there was no effort to force the church to marry gays, the church jumped into the fray. If Pope Francis had been in the Vatican a decade ago he may have had something to say about the need for compassion and understanding.
A decade ago, theories that quacks could "cure" gays of what was their very essence as humans were still being advanced, and the tone from the anti-gay marriage side was ugly in its sanctimony and intolerance. The institution of marriage itself would crumble if gays were allowed to marry, even though logic would suggest that introducing more people into the institution would strengthen it. That is what happened, of course, as Massachusetts remains one of the state's with the lowest divorce rate. Heterosexual marriage continues to thrive.
The piecemeal collapse of the patently unconstitutional federal Defense of Marriage Act -- as good an example of Big Government intruding on the rights of the individual as was ever passed into law -- is fueling the legalization of gay marriage in the states. Lower-court judges, most recently last week in Oregon, have repeatedly cited the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling weakening DOMA in their decisions to strike down bans. "While tonight's newscast will feature tearful couples at staged PR activities in courthouses across the state, the real tears should be for the next generation as we witness our constitutional republic sink into a banana republic," whined a spokesman for the Oregon Family Council, who saw the Oregon decision as the product of collusion among lawmakers, the legal system and gay rights groups. Hate-filled conspiracy theorists aren't going away soon, but they are going the way of that giant dinosaur whose femur was found in Argentina last week.
Eighteen states have followed the lead of Massachusetts, and with young people overwhelmingly supporting gay marriage, more states will follow. Someday, people will ask why this was even an issue, just as today we ask why African-Americans were belittled and afflicted with segregation. In Massachusetts, we can be proud of asking these questions first and being the first state to take a chunk out of a barrier that is in the process of collapsing.