May 17 is on its way to becoming
Marriage Equality Day.
It was on that day five years ago today
that celebrations erupted in town halls across Massachusetts as the
first gay and lesbian couples legally exchanged vows after the state
Supreme Court ruled a gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The scenes
were cheerful as hundreds of well wishers rushed to view history
unfold before their eyes.
Since then, the state has issued
thousands of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
In Provincetown, the gay mecca of New
England, the legalization of gay marriage has created a booming gay
wedding cottage industry.
But there have been rocky moments on
the road to Marriage Equality Day. Years of hand wringing followed
the court's decision as gay marriage foes fought to amend the state
constitution to re-ban gay marriage. The Massachusetts
constitutional amendment process may sound familiar to Iowans: Two
consecutive wins in the Legislature, followed by a ballot measure.
In 2007, lawmakers
decided to leave well-enough alone.
And it wasn't until last summer that
former Governor Mitt Romney's gay marriage moat was finally breached
when lawmakers paved over an obscure 1913 law that banned
non-residents from marrying in the state if the marriage was not
recognized in their home state.
Last year, as Massachusetts approached
its fourth anniversary, it stood alone in offering marriage equality,
but since then five states have joined in the celebration. With the
exception of Rhode Island, gay marriage is a reality throughout New
England, and Iowa began issuing marriage licenses in April.
That's only about 5% of Americans, but
that's up roughly 150% since last year. Add to the mix populous
states currently leaning towards legalization – California, New
York and New Jersey – and next year's total is certain to increase
The movement's rapid pace has left gay
marriage opponents flatfooted, and scrambling for a new defense. In
2004, they decried judges who ruled against gay marriage bans,
claiming they had usurped the authority of the Legislature. That
argument crumbled for opponents this spring as three legislatures –
and two governors – backed gay marriage. Pressed into a corner,
gay marriage foes now say voters should be the ultimate arbiters
of the issue. But a likely vote in Maine – a “people's veto” –
this November is given a slim chance of success.
Coupled with new polling data that
indicates a rapidly increasing acceptance for gay and lesbian rights
and the writing is on the wall: Gay marriage has taken root in
In Massachusetts, a popular May 17
celebration is the Freedom to Marry ice cream social. This year, the
dessert might taste a bit sweeter.