By Mubarak Dahir
Ever since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its momentous ruling in November, some forces have been marshalling to figure out how to thwart granting gay and lesbian couples legal marriage.
It’s no surprise that anti-gay opponents from all around the country would rally with both money and manpower to try to stop gays and lesbians from attaining this milestone.
But what has been both alarming and saddening to me is that many within our own ranks, some gay and lesbian people as well as many of those who call themselves our “allies,” are doing the same thing.
Granted, they are doing it for different reasons, but the end result is that they are still working to subvert gays and lesbians getting equal access to marriage in Massachusetts.
They shouldn’t be. We as a community, and those who truly support us, should continue to fight for and demand nothing less than equal access to civil marriage under the law. First in Massachusetts, and then around the country.
But there is currently a strange alliance of sorts between some of our enemies and some of our friends and even some of us. I’m referring to any and all individuals and groups who believe that some alternative to civil marriage is an acceptable substitute in Massachusetts. In political circles, this has become known as the “Anything But Marriage,” or ABM, option.
Those who spout ABM call for something akin to “civil unions” in Vermont, or a “domestic partner” law, that would give varying degrees of the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.
Of course, different factions have different reasons for supporting ABM.
Our out-right enemies simply want to blockade us from getting any closer to marriage (and thus equality) than we have to. For them, ABM is a bitter pill to swallow, but still less egregious than granting homosexuals access to the sacred institution that is the M-word.
These people are no surprise. Newsflash: Our enemies don’t want us to get married. While such anti-gay groups and individuals can be powerful and must be countered with well-coordinated and well-funded education and lobby efforts, in many ways they are not our worst enemies.
To me, those who claim to support gay and lesbian rights, but won’t stand up for marriage, and this includes a surprising number of people in our community, are the most perplexing.
In a condensed version, these people argue that America isn’t “ready” for gays and lesbians to get married. We’re going too fast, they say. Marriage is too sacred a cow to tackle just yet, they bleat. If we fast-forward to marriage, there will be a huge backlash against gay and lesbian civil rights elsewhere, they fret.
The best strategy, they would have us believe, is to take it slowly and not “rock the boat,” as it were. Play nice. Play safe.
I won’t dismiss all of these concerns out of hand. I do believe that when we start getting marriage licenses (and we will, sooner or later, be it in Massachusetts or elsewhere), we should be prepared for that infamous “backlash” that so many people are so worried about. Just how bad it will be is a matter of debate, but it will probably rear its head in some form or another.
But this is no time for us to be timid. History shows that playing it safe and hoping not to stir up the masses doesn’t work. Those who have power and rights rarely, if ever, simply grant access to those rights to people who don’t have them. At least, not without a struggle.
It sounds cliche, but it’s true: You have to fight for anything worth getting.
I’m not denying that marriage will be a big fight not only in the courts and legislatures of America, but in the hearts and souls of American citizens.
But it’s not impossible. Polls already show that many Americans can be won over. A Boston Globe poll showed that 50 percent of respondents agreed with the Massachusetts court ruling, and thus marriage. A Boston Sunday Herald poll came up with a similar 49 percent in favor.
Nationwide, the numbers aren’t quite as good but neither are they unbearably bleak. An ABC news poll held in September found that 37 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. The same poll found only slightly higher support for ABM: 40 percent of those questioned endorsed giving same-sex couples “the legal rights of married couples in such areas as health insurance, inheritance and pension coverage.”
The gap between the 37 percent who support marriage, and the 40 percent who support ABM is tiny. But the gap between what ABM vs. marriage offers us as gay and lesbian people is immeasurable.