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Crossing Borders, Expanding Equality, and Seeking Justice

August 21, 2008

Patricia A. Gozemba

Equality is a core value in Massachusetts. More than two weeks have passed since our Massachusetts borders fell to the further expansion of equality. When Governor Deval Patrick signed the repeal of the 1913 law that prohibited out-of-state same-sex couples from coming to our state to marry, our state borders became more permeable and we are glad of it. At the July 31, 2008, signing ceremony, Patrick said, “the repeal will confirm a simple truth: that is, in Massachusetts, equal means equal.”

In 2003, Massachusetts’ Goodridge v DPH decision, gave hope to same-sex couples just as in 1948 California with Perez v. Sharp gave hope to interracial couples. Two court decisions, equally visionary. Most recently, California, a state now often associated with border worries, showed the way on marriage equality with a sweeping court decision on May 15, 2008, that welcomed all same-sex couples to marry there regardless of their residence. No question this bold expansion of civil rights cleared the way for Massachusetts to move ahead in this worrisome presidential election year and match California’s commitment to democracy. Bi-coastal equality on the march.

Some cynics say the move in Massachusetts was sparked by the lure of wedding celebration dollars—perhaps a little competition with California. Let’s concede that economics may be part of the unanimous vote of our state Senate and the 119-36 vote of the House of Representatives, but there is more: a commitment to equality that has grown stronger as more than 11,000 Massachusetts same-sex couples have tied the knot.

The 1913 law, originally intended to prohibit interracial marriage in Massachusetts if such a marriage would not be recognized in the couples’ home state, was an antique vestige of racism. In 2004, former Governor Mitt Romney resurrected the law to keep out non-resident same-sex couples seeking marriage equality. He even went so far as to send letters to the attorneys general and governors of the other 49 states warning them about border-crossers seeking equality in Massachusetts and then coming back to their homes to incite turmoil by filing legal cases in state courts. It was a “secure your borders” move designed to cast Romney as the conservative guardian angel of so-called family values. He felt no shame in exploiting a racist law.

Meanwhile in the legislature, over these past four years, African American leaders like Representative Byron Rushing and Senator Diane Wilkerson, along with legions of their allies, steeled themselves to wipe this vestige of racial marriage discrimination off the books. Rushing and Wilkerson led their colleagues through the process with the full support of House Speaker Sal DiMasi, Senate President Theresa Murray, and Governor Patrick.

The repeal of the 1913 law was one more historic moment in the move toward full equality for same sex couples. Somewhat lost in the excitement of Governor Patrick’s signing of the repeal was his signing of a second bill granting Medicaid benefits to married same-sex couples.

Patrick underscored its importance: “The MassHealth equality bill is the first piece of legislation in the Commonwealth to codify the Goodridge decision extending legal marriage and its protections, benefits, and obligations to same-sex married couples in our state.” And then he issued the national challenge. “It’s the first piece of legislation in the nation to reject discrimination in the Federal Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA].” California, are you up to the challenge? We can lead the way to undoing DOMA.

Meanwhile, in this summer of presidential turmoil, couples from around the country will seek validation of their commitment and love in same-sex marriages. Only those from New York, Rhode Island, and New Mexico can return home and have their marriages recognized by their state. But that will not stop the marriage equality movement.

Wedding celebrations in Massachusetts and California will involve families, friends, and loved ones, converting all but the most hard-hearted to same-sex marriage supporters. Weddings and marriage have a way of speaking to heterosexuals that the LGBT community barely perceived. Advocacy speeches by supportive legislators, court decisions, and wedding toasts, all resonate with reverence for marriage. Other LGBT civil rights never captured the imaginations of heterosexual allies the way the right to marriage equality has.

One wedding at a time, gay men and lesbians are winning allies. In our book Courting Equality, Steve Galante said it well. “Having a legal marriage, I think made it ‘okay’ for anyone who doubted themselves for wanting to be supportive and accepting of our family. When marriage was made legal, it relieved people of their moral struggle with this particular issue. It allowed them to follow their hearts, their best interests, and embrace our family.”

So as same-sex couples and their wedding parties cross borders and affirm marriages, Massachusetts and California will be exporting equality. Our opposition says in essence that Massachusetts and California are “imposing equality” on other states. How undemocratic this sounds. We are inspiring equality.

Patricia A. Gozemba is co-author (with Karen Kahn and Marilyn Humphries) of Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First legal Same-Sex Marriages (Beacon Press, 2007). You can read more at www.courtingequality.com.

Copyright 2008 Patricia A. Gozemba

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