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Gay Marriage in Massachusetts
03/10/2003

Jeff Jacoby cuts through all of the dissembling and emotionalizing to the core of the gay marriage issue, which may be about to explode in Massachusetts.

The plaintiffs are not asking for the right to marry, for each of them has exactly the same marriage rights as every other Massachusetts adult. What they really seek is to alter the legal definition of ''marriage'' so it encompasses something it has never encompassed before: same-sex unions.

Has the time for that alteration arrived? A case for it can certainly be made. After all, family law has changed profoundly in recent decades -- think of no-fault divorce, adoption by same-sex couples, or the expanded rights of single parents -- and it has become almost a mainstream opinion that the meaning of marriage should change with it. A forthright call for amending the marriage statutes so that men can marry men and women can marry women would be received sympathetically by many people.

But advocates of same-sex marriage who have embarked on a litigation strategy would rather not be forthright. To Sosman's observation that the plaintiffs' real goal is to change the definition of marriage, Bonauto replied, ''I would respectfully disagree, your honor.'' She had no choice. To agree would have been to concede that her clients were before the wrong branch of government: It is the job of the Legislature, not the courts, to configure the structures of state law.

The attempt to fudge semantic arguments and to legislate through the courts is particularly problematic in this case, in which many of those who object to legalizing same-sex marriage do so on the basis of disbelieving that the movement — as a movement — doesn't have broader goals. It certainly doesn't help that, by appealing to the wrong branch of government, gay-marriage advocates are attempting to knock down the wall that they proclaim will remain standing: the institution of marriage as something more meaningful than a personal contract.

Even at his most measured, the best Andrew Sullivan can do is to suggest that he wants to force the issue through the courts in each state. One good rule of thumb for life that I've managed to stumble into realizing is that people who act as if they are hiding something often are. My position on this issue remains that homosexuals who are sincere in their desire to undertake marriage as the institution is intended ought to bring their case to the people, engaging in relationships that are marriage in everything but name, and then seeking legislative change.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 11:58 AM EST