Thursday, May 10, 2012

To Form A More Fabulous Union

A few of the lines still have to be drawn, but mostly the paint's had a long time to dry. Ten years ago, the idea of same-sex marriage in the United States wasn't on the political radar in any significant way; today, New Mexico is the only state where it isn't specifically recognized or prohibited. While full same-sex marriage is presently on the books in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa, and Washington and Maryland are working on updating their laws accordingly, in most of the rest of the country - and across the entire former Confederate States of America - same-sex marriage is not only prohibited, those prohibitions are enshrined in the state constitutions. Contrast this to the Canadian experience, where over the course of two years it went from not being recognized anywhere to everyone except Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Prince Edward Island having brought it in already before the federal government acted.

And you know what? In the last ten years, Canadian society hasn't collapsed because of what some people would likely call a "betrayal" or "abandonment" of traditional marriage. I'm sure that if you brought this up to some of the bigots who headed up the recent, victorious anti-same-sex marriage campaign in North Carolina - you know, the ones who say they're not anti-gay, but pro-marriage - you would get some special pleading or a dismissal of the Canadian experience as irrelevant. But that's how it is; the battle lines have been drawn, and for many people this sort of thing is a battle.

Yesterday, the supporters of equality received some unexpected reinforcements - that is, President Obama. Granted, it didn't come entirely out of nowhere; Vice-President Biden's recent expression of support clearly was a sounding rocket sent up to determine reactions. Though Obama's fresh stance on this issue does potentially create a new vulnerability for him in the coming election, it's still the right thing to do. Besides, in addition to at last providing a way to distinguish him from Romney, it's a way for him to shore up his support among his base, to recapture a part of the hope-and-change days of 2008, without actually having to do anything.

Dark blue indicates full recognition of same-sex marriage. Light blue indicates limited rights, light red indicates that it is banned by law, and the darker reds indicate it is banned by individual state constitutions. This file, created by Lokal_Profil, is used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license it was made available under.

Though Obama already has the authority to indefinitely detain whoever he wants without the necessity for a trial or a charge and to order the extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens with drone attacks, that doesn't mean he can do anything he wants. The system itself prohibits it. How much of that "hope and change" platform philosophy was he able to implement during his Congressional majority, back before the Tea Party tidal wave in 2010? While his expression of support is an energizing gesture, undoubtedly reassuring to LGBT people who have seen people who want to restrict them and limit them win votes from coast to coast, it's just a gesture.

There's not even any room for a Constitutional amendment to prohibit the establishment of an "official definition of marriage," the way things stand. Thirty-eight states would need to vote in favor for that to pass, and thirty states have officially defined marriage in their constitutions. If something as innocuous as the Equal Rights Amendment couldn't pass - with a few outliers, held up in the main by that same hard core of ex-Confederate states - there'll have to be a seismic shift in American culture before the situation changes much.

The lines have been drawn, and attitudes will harden; people tend to get like that when they see the prospect of equality denied them. Though the opponents of same-sex marriage are, ultimately, on the wrong side of history, there's going to be a damn lot of history that has to unfold before people figure that out.

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