A Public Display of Affection

Avert your gaze, ye enemies of sentiment! Today is Eddie’s birthday and I am giving him a public kiss.

The last word hasn’t yet been spoken on the fate of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, but at the moment it looks like efforts to engineer an amendment to the Massachusetts State Constitution that would reverse the legalization of gay marriages may have been successfully stymied by a deft (or sneaky, depending on how you look at it) parliamentary maneuver by our allies in the legislature.

Which means that life will go on for a while with doomsday predictions about the supposed bad effects of having lesbians and gays living as married couples amid the heterosexual majority being disproven with every passing day. Eddie and I are pleased to be participants in this process.

The state’s marriage amendment as written cannot undo Eddie’s and my marriage even if our governor Mit Romney succeeds in his effort to resurrect it at the last moment. That said, we all know that political winds can shift unexpectedly, and the deadline for getting an antigay marriage amendment onto the 2008 ballot hasn’t quite passed yet. Therefore, although it seems unlikely, Massachusetts voters could still end up getting their shot a couple of years from now at defining future marriages between the same-sex couples next door out of bounds.

But whatever transpires (barring an unexpected surge for President Bush’s must wished for amendment to the Federal Constitution), a change of marriage’s definition in the Massachusetts Constitution can only affect gay nuptials thereafter. It will not be retroactive. So a sliver of the state’s gay population will be left as legally wed as is possible while discrimination remains the rule beyond our state’s borders. And that "sliver" of married human beings numbers in the thousands by now. That’s no small sliver.

Whatever Massachusetts and America learn from spending years knowing that thousands of gay people are living in officially sanctioned households to no observable ill effect on society will be hard to unlearn, no matter how much the American Family Association rails. Such things can be unlearned (it’s always sobering to remember that a gay-rights movement flourished in Germany before Hitler rose to crush it), but it’s not easy to voluntarily blind yourself when you’ve spent some time viewing life’s realities.

Massachusetts enjoys (grudgingly, sometimes) the reputation of being "the bluest of the blue states." To many people elsewhere this translates as "a breeding ground for liberal wackos." Being an unapologetic liberal who considers occasional wackniness his birthright as a cartoonist, I would feel safer if the Bay State’s embrace of its reputation were a little firmer. The Catholic hierarchy in the state is no friend to "blueness" when it comes to marriage equality, and our governor freely scores points with the Christian right by demonstrating that familial love between members of the state’s LGBT people cuts no ice with him. More disturbing than these fairly atypical examples of homophobic intransigence among the powerful is my awareness that such voices of intolerance clearly have a significant constituency in the state. Otherwise they would not be powerful.

I’m happy that gay people seem to have sturdier friends in this state’s legislature than is common in most other states. Antigay legislation is not a slam dunk here. Whew. It would be more reassuring if marriages like Eddie’s and mine were being defended by straightforwardly enlightened action instead of tricky votes for recesses. But we fringe types who live our lives trying to destroy American family values must take our victories however we can get them during dark times.

Homophobia-based inequality has been imbedded with depressing ease in numerous state constitutions across America since the possibility of equal rights for gays first reared its scary head in Hawaii back in the ’90s. An outcry followed, as outcries always do when prejudices are challenged, and the people who were then in charge of Hawaiian rulemaking scampered to calm the waters. In short order discrimination in Hawaii was made Constitutional by referendum. And that was that in luau-land.

A pattern was established. Marriage equality has been steadily beaten back by votes or vetoes in state after state since then, just as equal rights for African-American citizens would surely have been voted down in my home state of Alabama when I was young, had not some "activist judges" removed bigotry-based laws as an option. Our Supreme Courts were cut from different cloth back then.

Occasional exceptions aside, I grew up viewing the U.S. Supreme Court as a thrilling buttress against the localized tyranny of ignorance. Even obstreperous Alabama Governor George C. Wallace was forced to step aside and allow black students to enroll at the University of Alabama once he was finished with his voter-pleasing "stand in the schoolhouse door." No matter how badly the racists of my home region behaved, the Warren Court saw what the American Constitution demanded in the way of "equal justice under the law" and made sure that the defenders of discrimination would ultimately have to step aside.

Thanks to relentless court-packing since those days by the "radical conservatives" who have taken charge of the GOP, fair rulings by the Supreme Court can no longer be counted upon to make the egalitarian ideals of our U.S. Constitution stick. Judicial appointments by George W. Bush, who happily displays the shallowest comprehension of what American democracy is all about that I have ever seen, may have succeeded in nudging the Supreme Court beyond a dangerous tipping point that will endure long after his own incompetence is expelled from the Oval Office. Time will tell. Am I nervous about Bush’s legacy? I am indeed.

I take nothing for granted in a country as divided against itself as ours. But for now Eddie and I count ourselves lucky to live in a state where rule by antigay hysteria is not as easy a sell as elsewhere. After our 27 years together, being married means relatively little to us. But having the right to be married means a lot.

So it’s handy that Eddie’s birthday falls so close after Thanksgiving every year. The two of us have many things to be grateful for that are unrelated to geographical location, but to be a gay couple legally married under the pioneering laws of a pioneer state adds a special grace note to our gratitude each fall as we brace for winter’s arrival.

About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
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0 Responses to A Public Display of Affection

  1. mthomases says:

    Thanksgiving seems like the right holiday for Eddie. I’m always grateful he was born.

  2. Joyeux anniversaire to Eddie!

  3. Happy birthday to Eddie! May it be a happy one.

    I look forward to the day when my hypothetical future children will be as flabbergasted by the notion that gays and lesbians were once forbidden to wed as I am by the notion that blacks and whites were once denied that same privilege.