June 27th, 2013


Yesterday: DOMA and Carl Sciortino

Yesterday's two events that I'm equally excited about are connected, going back about a decade.

DOMA's legal effects were theoretical when it was passed in 1996, and became real with the gradually growing prevalence of marriage equality, which started here in Massachusetts. In 2004 we had the country's first legal same sex marriages, and Cambridge City Hall opened at midnight on the day that became allowed, to be the first to grant licenses.

Yesterday we had a gathering (smaller and shorter due to happening on only a half day's notice) on the same City Hall lawn to celebrate those same marriages getting federal recognition. One of the people who spoke was state representative Carl Sciortino, who earlier that day officially kicked off his campaign for Congress. He's running to replace Ed Markey, who'd just won election to the US Senate the previous day.

With 12 states - including 4 added in the past year - it's getting harder to remember what it was like the first few years after Massachusetts, when it was Massachusetts (and Vermont's civil unions) vs. the entire rest of the country. In 2008 when California legalized same sex marriage, it was only the second state to do so, and Prop 8 overturned it later that year. In the meantime, every election, several more states passed anti-marriage amendments.

When thinking back to those years, what a lot of people don't appreciate is that Massachusetts wasn't a done deal, and that it wasn't just a court decision; we had to win this at the ballot too, several times over. By that day in May 2004 when the first licenses were granted, Massachusetts' legislature had already voted to ban gay marriage 105-92, a few months earlier.

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In 2004, voting to ban gay marriage was considered the "safe" position. Voting against the amendment took political courage.

In 2005, we'd proven the reverse: Vote to ban gay marriage, and you'll get a primary challenger, your job will be at risk, and your chances of running for higher office will be shot. Voting in support of equality, on the other hand, was not only politically safe, but also gained you valuable support (fundraising, volunteers, organizational help) in future campaigns.

In 2006, we continued to prove it and reinforce it, and even the second amendment designed to get as much support as possible fell below 25%.

Carl Sciortino, the state rep who kicked off his run for Congress yesterday morning, was one of the people who started that process. When his state representative refused to support marriage equality, Carl decided to run for office, and he was the challenger who beat a 16 year incumbent in September 2004.

I'm going to post more about him another day soon.