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Massachussetts: Gay Marriage Legalized

Joshua Legg
President, Freedom to Marry Foundation
Monday, May 17, 2004; 1:00 PM

After months of eager anticipation mixed with nagging worries that this day may never come, gay couples across Massachusetts and beyond converged on Cambridge on Sunday night to apply for the nation's first state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage licenses: Gay Couples Line Up for Mass. Marriages, (Post, May 17).

Joshua Legg, president of the Freedom to Marry Foundation and board member of the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachussetts, was online Monday, May 17 at 1 p.m. ET, to discuss the scene at Boston's City Hall, where he's been this morning, and the continuing debate about same-sex marriage.


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Joshua Legg: Happy Marriage Day everyone, and thanks for having us on today. It's a pleasure to join Live Online. I can't tell you how amazing the atmosphere is here in the Commonwealth today. I spent the morning at Boston City Hall (and last night in Cambridge) - we're all filled with such joy and elation today. This is a day is a long time in coming for so many couples and families. It's wonderful to see their love and commitment recognized. I'm looking forward to your questions.

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Houston, Tex.: I'm thrilled that every adult couple, regardless of gender, now has the freedom to marry in Massachusetts. It's about time! But there is one issue that will be a thorn to many. My husband and I are recognized as married in every state and every country. How long do you think it will be before a gay couple married in Massachussetts will sue for the right to be recognized in every other state (like Texas) just like any straight couple?

Joshua Legg: Today, all we're really thinking about is Massachusetts and concentrating on celebrating. I'd imagine that will be our focus for sometime. There are a good number of weddings to get through in the coming months.

It's difficult to figure out what the appropriate course might be to open up marriage across the country and strengthen the institution of marriage at the same time. The relaity is that there are cases pending in three states currently, and I'd expect some possible litigation in places like California and Oregon that might have an impact well before a Massachusetts case might be ready to be heard.

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Washington, D.C.: Today is the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Education, and it's the day the first gay marriages in the States are legal.

I somehow find that appropriate.

How similar are the fights for equal rights for racial minorities to those of Lesbians and Gays?

Joshua Legg: Having marriage licenses issue here in the Commonwealth today is such a wonderful way to honor Brown v. Board of Education's 50th anniverary. Goodridge (the case that opened up marriage here), and Brown are both so much about equal access, as much as they were more deeply about human diginity. The decisions in both cases were the right ones for each case, and they were the right, just, and proper decisions for our society. We are still benefiting today from Brown in so many ways, and we'll benefit from Goodridge for ages to come as well.

The struggles for equality -- both for racial minorities and LGBT persons -- are incredibly similar. People of Color leaders like Rev. Sharpton, Coretta Scott King, Carol Mosley Braun, and the leaders at the NAACP have spoken far more eloquently about that than I can. I agree with them though. These struggles that we keep fighting in this nation for equality and liberty and justice for all are about dignity. And, I believe that the prejudices we struggle against come from the same dark places. the LGBT community has benefitted greatly from the lessons and work of the POC community. We're indebted to them for the work they've been doing for generations.

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Falls Church, Va.: Hi Joshua! Thanks for sharing with us today! I have a question I hope you can answer.

I grew up in the Boston area and would like to go with my partner to get married in front of all my friends and family in Massachussetts. But I know that it would not be legal in my current state. Don't we have to take an oath stating that it's not against the law in our current state? What are our options?

Thanks so much. It's been a tough day today: my home state is performing gay marriages while my current state is trying to invalidate my relationship!

Joshua Legg: Thanks for writing today. Interestingly enough, I'm a native Virginian currently living in Boston. Until a few short weeks ago, I'd always been so proud to be from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Now, I'm ashamed of my home state and the elected officials there. All they did was codify bigotry and hate into that grad Commonwealth's constitution. I'm certain that Mr. Jefferson is not ammused.

As to the legal question, I'm actually going to recommend you contact Gay and Lesbian Advocated and Defenders here in Boston (www.glad.org). I'm not an attorney, I'd rather not mislead you. I can tell you that there are clerks here who are not checking to see if it's legal in your state or not. Also, I know there is question as to whether the 1913 law here can be applied to same-sex marriages. We'll know more in coming weeks and months.

In the meantime, I'm glad to know that groups like EqualityVirginia are still working to find ways for same-sex couples to protect their families in VA.

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Washington, D.C.: How long do you think before we will see the first gay divorce?

Joshua Legg: LOL! I don't want to think that far ahead. Today, I just want to think about the joy of celebrating with my dear friends who been together for decades that are now married. Honoring their love today is all that matters.

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Washington, D.C.: More than 12 hours into this whole situation, and my marriage remains intact and happy. Funny, that.

Seriously, this isn't a redefinition of marriage -- it's an extension of the existing definition to more people. Since the "more people" we're talking about are consenting adults, and since the legal and financial implications of marriage can be extended to them without overmuch complication (as would not be true of those seeking to open marriage to polygamy, say), there should be relatively little effect on society as a whole.

The REAL redefinition of marriage (in Western Europe and colonies thereof) happened slowly over the past 500 years, about, and has to do with the move from a primarily economic, male-dominated institution arranged by parents or other authority figures to an equal, love-based partnership arranged by the couple involved. I personally like the new definition a lot better, myself.

Joshua Legg: Thanks that affirmation. And, you're so right. If anything, every marriage license (at least those from Massachusetts) now mean so much more than ever. You are also correct. Marriage as we know it has evolved from nation to nation from the being of the concept of marriage. In fact, the first marriage license in the US weren't even handed out until sometime around 1870. Women used to be the property of their husbands...the list of changes goes on. Marriage has never been a stagnant, immovable thing. I think had it been that lacking in flexibility, that institution may not be here today.

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Zanesville, Ohio: I just wanted to say congratulations to all of the couples in Massachussetts who are FINALLY going to be able to enjoy many of the same legal rights and priveleges my husband and I have. Our thoughts and prayers are with those families and with those waiting for legal recognition in other states and by the federal government.

We're just tickled pink that this is finally happening! May all of those unions be blessed with peace and prosperity (and the expansion of their legality).

Joshua Legg: I really appreaciate your wishes for those married here. And, I join your prayer that all couples will soon know this blessing. Being a man of faith, I and lots of folks around the world have been praying for this day. Many of us feel like a lot of prayers were answered today. Thank you.

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Boston, Mass.: Congratulations to all of the newlyweds! Are there any estimates as to how many marriage licenses will be issued in the first 24 hour period?

Joshua Legg: There's no way to guess. In Cambridge last night there were 260+ applications filed. By the time I came back from Boston City Hall to join this chat, there'd already been 84 here in Boston today. And, remember, every community in Massachusetts started taking applications today. Who knows how many we'll see by the end of the day. And, we know licenses will continue to issue for a long time. So, I don't think we'll have a sea of folks this first week, but the numbers will still be exciting.

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Kendall Park, N.J.: People opposed to gay marriage say it will hurt the sanctity of marriage. I can't quite figure that one out. How does two people of the same sex getting married have any impact on my marriage or whether my children decide to get married? Don't things like adultery and quickie marriages/divorces and reality TV shows like "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" do much more to harm marriage than two loving people who happen to be gay getting married?

Joshua Legg: So true. Having couples who are committed and loving (some of whom have been together 50+ years) can only strengthen the institution and sanctity of marriage. It is a wonderful day.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: There is legislative movement in Pennsylvania (and I presume in other states as well) that our state would not recognize another state's gay marriage. At a time when Philadelphia is actively marketing for gay tourism and urban areas are seeking attempting to attract gay homeowners, doesn't this seem to be economically counterproductive?

Joshua Legg: I'd imagine that this will be counter productive economically for PA. We're already seeing an impact in Virginia. There are major calls for tourists to boycott the state because of the extent to which the Legislature there decided to infringe on the civil rights of the citizens. I'm not certain just how much of an impact that boycott will have on the opinions of the Legislature, but if it's anywhere close to the success that the boycott had in Colorado in the 90s, there could be a real economic impact. Pa and other states may face the same issue, particularly if the state is trying to capture the gay dollar.

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Arlington, Va.: Given that polygamy has a much more extensive sociological and historical precedent and acceptance than same-sex "marriage," isn't it rational, if we're changing the definition of marriage, to extend that freedom of choice to plural marriage?

Joshua Legg: Absolutely not. We are not talking about numerousity here. We are only talking about two human beings who love one another, and their rights as citizens to protect one another through their lives.

Polygamy was a major concern in the late 60s as we were ending marriage discrimination for interacial couples. And, 36 years later, polgamy still hasn't taken over the mainstream.

The sky didn't fall after Loving v. Virginia, and it hasn't fallen so far today.

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Alexandria, Va.: I seem to remember reading an article about when San Francisco was granting marriage licenses to gay couples, there were people volunteering at the scene to hold people's places in line, hand out coffee/donuts/etc., and generally cheer the happy couples on, and that people were sending flowers from across the country addressed to "any gay couple getting married today." Is anything like that going on in Boston and other Massachussetts cities today, and if someone wanted to send their wishes in the form of flowers or something similar, how would one go about that? Thanks. I'm so happy for everyone who can get married now!

Joshua Legg: Thanks so much for that thought. And yes. Folks all over the state have been incredible. I'm hearing about people taking food and coffee, and lots of flowers, wedding cakes -- you name it -- to the city halls. The communities are being so supportive here. It's been beautiful. I'd imagine you could send flowers right to the mayor's office in Boston. They've been so incredible. They might be willing to take the flowers out to the folks in line.

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Central New Jersey: Do you think states putting anti-gay marriage initiatives on the November ballot is merely a ploy to motivate conservatives likely to vote for Bush to the polls in November?

Joshua Legg: Unfortunately, yes. The more they can pad the ballot, the more likely they are to create voter turn out. And, what an incidious way to do so -- by attacking American families.

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Washington, D.C.: When gay marriages were performed in San Francisco, it was quite a surprise and there were many "spontaneous" weddings. Given the long lead time people in Massachussetts have had in anticipation of this day, are many people having big celebrations?

Joshua Legg: I think there are as many answers to this as there are couples getting married. Since so many of these couples who'll marry in the first few months have been together for decades, many of them had their religious ceremonies, or commitment ceremonies, ages ago. For them, they may prefer a smaller way to mark their civil marriage. Others have waited decades for this day to have any kind of ceremony and will do it up big. I'm going to a few ceremonies of each kind.

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Virginia: No question, just a comment. I think it's absolutely absurd for gays to equate their "struggle" with the civil rights movement. Blacks were enslaved, lynched, denied equal access, and a slew of other atrocities because of their skin color -- a visible, outward factor of which they had no control. No one will know someone is gay by looking at them; everyone knows you're black/brown at first glance.

Joshua Legg: You know, I have to say that I always carry this debate on in my head. I know full well that there are differences between the struggles. But just as I am writing this, I'm thinking about Matthew Shepherd and a host of otheres who've been killed in some really horrid ways in the last decade because they were LGBT. Just because emotional/sexual attraction or gender orientation can't be seen physically doesn't make hatred any easier to deal with, or the struggle any less real. And, when respected People of Color leaders tell me that our struggles are similar, then I respect that. And, I appreciate their support.

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Joshua Legg: Thank you all so much -- I really enjoyed chatting. I appreciate all the questions, and I'm sorry I didn't get to everyone. Have a great day.

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