FOR THE SECOND time in as many weeks, a state legislature has bucked the ugly trend of writing discrimination against gays into state law. Last week, the California Assembly voted to allow same-sex marriage. This week, lawmakers in Massachusetts decisively rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the state's Supreme Judicial Court decision acknowledging gay marriage rights. The lopsided vote, 157 to 39, provides a kind of backhanded legislative validation of the court's ruling, which had been much derided for usurping the legislative function. Lawmakers have not voted to create same-sex-marriage rights, but they have decided not to take them away. The vote shows that as people grow used to gay marriages, which have been taking place in Massachusetts for more than a year, their discomfort -- and the political impetus for banning them -- diminishes.
The vote certainly overstates support for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, for the fiercest opponents of gay marriage also opposed the specific amendment under consideration. The amendment would replace full marriage equality with civil unions, and some opponents have thrown their support instead behind a proposal not to recognize same-sex relationships at all. Still, the tide is clearly turning, and minds are changing. Only last year, after all, the Massachusetts legislature passed this amendment. This year, even excluding those who voted against it because they favor something harsher, a clear majority opposed it on the grounds that they affirmatively support marriage equality.
Work remains to be done. Under the Massachusetts constitution, lawmakers are likely to confront the more draconian version of the constitutional amendment, and, even with relatively scant legislative support, it could go before the voters in 2008. But public opinion is moving in the right direction, and the reason is not hard to discern: Since the high court's ruling went into effect, a lot of couples have tied the knot in Massachusetts, and, somehow, the sun has continued to rise in the east. Many people are realizing that it costs heterosexual marriage nothing for same-sex marriage also to exist. The longer people have to absorb that lesson, the more support for banning marriages between committed couples is likely to erode.