Dan… ya gotta love it when James Taranto sounds a lot like us!
The history of this issue is a striking example of the power of the judiciary to shape American politics and culture. In 1999, when the Vermont Supreme Court issued a similar decision, it seemed revolutionary. Gov. Howard Dean, confronted at town meetings by angry traditionalists, defensively said that the ruling didn’t redefine marriage, which remains a union between a man and a woman. Dean nonetheless said he favored civil unions, and he signed the bill the court had ordered the Legislature to pass.
Five years later, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court mandated same-sex marriage, in name as well as in effect. And just over two years after that, the Vermont approach is the “conservative” one, or at least the “moderate” one, at least in New Jersey. Yesterday’s vote among the justices in Lewis v. Harris was 4-3, with the dissenters asserting, à la Massachusetts, that same-sex couples have the “right to the title of marriage” as well as to its material benefits.
Two years ago the New York Times reported that President Bush–frequently vilified by gay-rights supporters for backing the Federal Marriage Amendment–endorsed the idea of civil unions:
In an interview on Sunday [Oct. 24, 2004] with Charles Gibson, an anchor of “Good Morning America” on ABC, Mr. Bush said, “I don’t think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that’s what a state chooses to do so.” . . .
According to an ABC transcript, Mr. Gibson then noted to Mr. Bush that the Republican Party platform opposed civil unions.
“Well, I don’t,” Mr. Bush replied.
So the country has traveled a long road since 1999, when Vermont’s ruling seemed revolutionary. Of course, one should not overstate the case: Only a handful of states afford legal recognition to same-sex unions, and all of them are in the Northeast save California and Hawaii. Most states have enacted laws or constitutional provisions preventing same-sex marriage, and some bar civil unions too.
These provisions resulted from a backlash after the courts’ rulings in Vermont and Massachusetts–a backlash that has probably served the electoral interests of Republicans, who, despite the president’s liberal views on civil unions, remain the party less eager to expand gay rights. In the long run, though, the move toward legal same-sex unions may prove inexorable. All those state restrictions on same-sex unions could be struck down by five Supreme Court justices.
We have mixed feelings about all this. We sympathize with both the traditionalists’ resistance to redefining marriage and gay couples’ desire to enjoy both the tangible benefits of marriage and the affirmation that comes with legal recognition. We guess we’re with President Bush in thinking civil unions are a reasonable compromise. But we’d also be happier if this were thrashed over democratically rather than forced upon society by the courts.
We’ve been saying that for over two years right here!
[Related Story – Same-sex marriage now becomes political dispute in New Jersey – Advocate.com]