In 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the Massachusetts state constitution requires the state to provide gay marriage. The ruling generated enormous controversy, both due to the substance and because it meant a court, rather than an elected legislature, was imposing same-sex marriage on Massachusetts.
Now Massachusetts is a considering a constitutional amendment to that would ban same-sex marriage. Proponents of same-sex marriage are trying to block a vote in the legislature that would be the first step toward putting this amendment on the 2008 ballot:
Governor Mitt Romney and Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley called on the Legislature yesterday to hold a scheduled vote next month on a proposed ban of same-sex marriage, amid indications that gay-rights advocates are prepared to use procedural tactics to kill the measure.
Two weeks before lawmakers are scheduled to take up the constitutional amendment, Romney along with O'Malley and other religious leaders expressed concern that same-sex marriage supporters on Beacon Hill will try to prevent the measure from coming up for debate. Such an outcome could abruptly end the long campaign to put the ban to voters in 2008.
As I have written previously, I believe the ideal policy is for government to stop providing marriage of any kind and leave marriage-like arrangements to private contracting.
This is unlikely to happen, however. Absent government exit from the marriage business, I believe government should provide same-sex as well as opposite-sex marriage.
But I also think it would be beneficial to put this issue on the ballot and allow a straight up or down vote. The same-sex issue is sufficiently controversial that having a decision imposed by a court is inflammatory and polarizing.
If instead the voters approve same-sex marriage (which is what I expect to happen in Massachusetts), one key counter-argument goes away, and everyone will have to accept same-sex marriage as having been chosen in a democratic fashion.
If voters turn down same-sex marriage, that will be a disappoinment. But it will also suggest that the time is not yet right and that proponents should consider intermediate steps like civil union. This approach is not satisfying to many proponents of same-sex marriage, since civil union does not have the same emotional, religious, or cultural significance as marriage.
Substantively, however, civil union accomplishes the same thing as marriage. More importantly, pushing same-sex marriage before an electorate is ready to accept it can easily generate a backlash that is counterproductive. The proliferation of attempts to ban same-sex marriage that arose after 2003 is consistent with this concern.