It has been a little over four years since the Massachusetts Supreme Court in a narrow 4-3 decision permitted gay couples to marry. Since that momentous decision approximately 10,000 gays and lesbians have tied the knot, and as is normal with any number of marriages, there have been some divorces, including the couple who served as the major plaintives in the case. The key point about four years of gay marriage in Massachusetts, however, is not the number of marriages or the divorces, but the ever-growing acceptance of these unions, despite resistance from church groups, conservative family values organizations and all those who predicted some sort of Sodom and Gomorrah ending for the Commonwealth.
Massachusetts has a history of tolerance and civil rights that go back to John Quincy Adams defending slaves brought over from Africa and the formation of the first black regiment during the Civil War. Today, the quiet acceptance of gay marriage in Massachusetts, though, is not just about a culture of tolerance in this liberal bastion but the realization by many people here that marriage is at its very core a commitment of love between two people, any two people. As the gay marriages became more frequent and pictures of happy couples appeared in the newspapers, the general response was not revulsion but communal happiness. A quiet consensus began to develop that all this fuss was really unnecessary since gay marriage was simply the fact that two people had found love and just wanted to make their love for each other official.
Added to this spirit of acceptance was old Yankee independence which took pride in minding one’s own business. I have heard from many people, even seniors and staunch churchgoers, that gays and lesbians don’t bother anyone and just want to be left alone to lead their lives; whether they take the next step and get married doesn’t seem to bother them that much. They might have serious reservations about all this gender change that they see around them, but as good tolerant Americans they are willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, and more importantly their privacy.
The setback in California on the gay marriage referendum and the passage of restrictive laws in a number of states banning gay marraige are without question serious roadblocks to equal rights. Yet what has happened here in Massachusetts and now Connecticut points to the future of gay marriage. Americans, especially younger Americans, will slowly but surely create a new national culture in which the right to love someone and be able to make that love open and official will prevail. The cultural shift will occur when those doubting Americans begin to realize that the national social fabric is not shredded because two people want to marry. It’s a cliche, but love does conquer all.