, Salem, MA

May 19, 2014

Our view: Same-sex marriage ruling changed state, nation

The Salem News

---- — Ten years have passed since the first legal same-sex marriages were celebrated in Massachusetts. We note that the world has not ended.

Traditional marriages between men and women still occur with regularity. These unions have not been devalued. Society has not decayed to a level of decadence and debauchery that would shame the late Roman Empire. And while some may argue that Western culture is in decline, they would be hard-pressed to pin that slide on same-sex marriage.

What has happened in the last 10 years is that a number of gay men and women have expressed their love for one another through the ceremony of marriage. They have found happiness and contentment. This is a good thing.

Massachusetts can take pride in having led the way as the first state to sanction same-sex marriage. Such unions are now legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia. Legal challenges to state laws barring same-sex marriage have been largely successful.

To be certain, there have been bumps in the road. Some couples who rushed into marriage in 2004 have since gone their separate ways. But the same can be said for traditional marriages.

Yes, some gay couples have married and later separated or divorced. These are the vicissitudes of life. Ideally, love endures and conquers all. But sometimes, love fades, and bitterness flows in to fill the gaps.

In November 2003, the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled 4-3 in Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health that, under the Massachusetts Constitution, the right to marry extends to same-sex couples.

“The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals,” then-Chief Justice Margaret Marshall wrote. “It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”

The court gave the state six months to implement its decision, and on May 17, 2004, gay couples flocked to city and town halls to take out marriage licenses. Since then, nearly 25,000 same-sex couples in Massachusetts have married.

Reporter Keith Eddings found that public opinion on same-sex marriage has shifted over the past decade. In 2004, 37 percent of Americans supported gay marriage, while 55 percent opposed it. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last month found those numbers nearly reversed, with 59 percent of Americans supporting the right of same-sex couples to marry and 39 percent opposing.

In 2004, we were critical of the Goodridge decision, arguing that such momentous change in public policy, history and tradition ought properly to be made by the people through their elected representatives, not a one-vote majority on a court. We remain disappointed that the Legislature, though parliamentary manipulations, denied the people of Massachusetts an opportunity to vote on a change of such magnitude. It is unfortunate that our elected representatives have so little faith in the good sense of the people.

The experience of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts has shown there was little to fear. We suspect that, if given an opportunity to vote today, the people of Massachusetts would vote overwhelmingly to retain the status quo.

And to those same-sex couples who realized their dream of marriage on May 17, 2004, we have one last thing to say: Happy anniversary.