Two months ago, my blog-league noted how Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), called state referenda defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman “unfair, bordering on immoral elections.” Foreman is not the only gay leader opposed to allowing Americans to vote on the definition of marriage. Earlier this week, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), a New England gay adocacy group, filed a lawsuit against Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly “in an effort to block a proposed ballot issue that would amend the state Constitution to outlaw same-sex marriage.
Gary Buseck, GLAD’s Legal Director, claims the Massachusetts “constitution says there can be no citizen-initiated constitutional amendment that `relates to the reversal of a judicial decision.’”
While one gay activist is attempting to prevent Massachusetts citizens from voting on the definition of marriage — just as citizens have done in fifteen states over the past two years — a prominent gay politician is upset that social conservatives want the people to decide this issue. Bay State Democratic U.S. Congressman Barney Frank called backers of the ballot initiative “disturbers of the civic peace,” claiming, “they’re the ones who want to stir it up. This is a non-issue in Massachusetts.”
If it’s such an non-issue, Frank shouldn’t worry too much about it being put on the ballot. If this referendum disturbs what Frank calls, “social peace in Massachusetts,” Bay State voters would likely vote it down.
Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Insitute which gathered the signatures to put the referendum on the state’s ballot, doesn’t think his group is disturbing the social peace. He said signers just wanted “opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage. Odd that Mr. Frank is accusing Mineau’s group of promoting a “divisive” initiative. They want the people to decide an issue whereas Frank supports the Goodridge decision where, by judicial fiat, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court redefined a centuries-old institution.
While Frank sees an “angry” fight ahead if this issue makes the Bay State’s 2008 ballot, I see instead the opportunity for advocates of gay marriage to make their case to Massachusetts voters, to persuade them of the merits of extending the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Perhaps Frank sees an angry debate because he expects these advocates to campaign against this initiative as they have campaigned against past referenda in other states, usually not by defending the notion of gay marriage, but by attacking those opposed to it. That tactic would certainly lead to an angry debate.
But, it doesn’t have to be an angry campaign. A referendum can — and should — provide citizens the opportunity to debate important issues such as this. By placing it on the ballot, opponents of gay marriage actually give advocates a better chance to make their case to citizens who would rather not discuss the topic. They should use the campaign against the referendum to make clear their case for gay marraige.
I wonder that someone who has served in Congress so long would be upset that a state referendum might be “divisive.” Democracy, by its very nature, is divisive in that it provides a forum for representatives of different viewpoints. Does Mr. Frank want to replace the “divisive” debates he has seen — and participated in — over the past quarter century (that he has served in Congress) with the unanimous votes of the Supreme Soviet or the subservience of Iran’s Majlis?
Unlike the former Soviet Union and the Islamic Republic of Iran, we attempt to resolve divisive issues through debate and democratic means. The only way to avoid the oftentimes divisive resolution of such issues is for an unelected elite to determine our priorities.
The democratic process may not necessarily mean defeat for gay marraige in Massachusetts. There are signs that the people there have begun to change their mind on the issue and have reached a different conclusion on gay marriage than have voters in other states. In September, the state legislature voted down a proposal to overturn the Goodridge decision mandating gay marriage. Given the small size of Massachusetts’ legislative districts, Bay State legislators are much closer to their constituents than those in other states. Surely these elected officials listened to their fellow citizens before voting on this controversial issue. They wouldn’t likely oppose a bill their constituents supported.
And that’s not the only sign that Massachusetts’ citizens support gay marraige. Advocates of gay marriage cite polls showing that a majority of Bay State citizens don’t want to see Goodridge overturned. Thus, advocates should welcome this referendum as it would settle this issue for once and for all (at least in Massachusetts). A debate may be divisive, but a popular vote against the initiative would be a severe blow to social conservatives. It would be the first time voters in any state had defeated a proposal upholding the traditional definition of marriage.
It’s unfortunate that advocates of gay marriage are opposed to the proposed referendum in the Bay State. It would provide both a forum for a serious debate on this important social issue and an opportunity to slow the momentum of the opponents of gay marriage.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com