Note: **As always, comments are welcome, but please do not post anything derogatory, vulgar, mean, or inflammatory about anyone. All photos in the MA section from HBP film archives. Also, note that this post went up the same day that Prop 8 was overturned in CA! This was sheer coincidence…but how timely!
In 2002-2004, I lived in Boston.
As a graduate student there, I served as a legislative aide in the MA Senate for State Senator David Magnani. This photo is horrible but will give you a feel for the grandeur of the MA State House.
This is Senator Magnani at his retirement party when he left the Senate.
My internship coincided with the long, protracted, emotionally draining same sex marriage debate in the MA legislature. I walked through picket lines to get into my office every day - with people on both sides of the issue. Imagine one side of the sidewalk lined with people holding Bibles and crosses, the other with drag queens, and everything in between. That is literally what I experienced on daily basis.
I personally took over 1,500 calls on this issue on the Senator’s behalf. Some were nasty, vulgar, and included personal attacks simply because I worked for a man that supported the same sex marriage law. I escaped periodically to the ladies room to dry tears and collect myself. The amount of hate and venom that came through the line at times was shocking, and it rattled me.
In a moment I will never forget, I was on the floor of the Senate when the Senate President read the decision handed down by the Court that upheld the same sex marriage law in MA. The reaction from both sides was audible, palpable, and in both cases, I think, one of shock and disbelief.
That Court decision was a landmark one. Everyone knew it would establish a historic precedent and have a ripple effect around the US. When the law became effective in May 2004, despite the doomsday warnings, nothing changed in the daily lives of MA residents, except maybe for wedding planners in Provincetown, Cape Cod. There were actually lobbyists that argued that the same sex marriage law would be an economic development tool for MA. Points for creativity!
I also worked in the MA Senate while the Governor (Mitt Romney at the time) and Legislature grappled with a significant budget crisis. Like the same sex marriage debate, the resulting cuts also generated significant protests.
It’s funny how history repeats itself.
Arizona, Present Day.
Like in MA in 2003-2004, AZ is tangled in the biggest budget crisis in the state’s history. Historic levels of cuts (over $2 billion since January 2009) have generated regular protests at the capital during the legislative sessions in 2009 and 2010. Here is a shot of the House of Representatives during the budget vote this spring:
Similarly, the same sex marriage debate, which reached a tipping point largely due to the MA law, continues in other states, including AZ. After MA legalized same sex marriage, many states responded by enacting Constitutional amendments that limit the definition of marriage to one man and one woman (even though many already had state laws to that effect, and even though the federal government had already enacted “The Defense of Marriage Act” [DOMA] in the 90′s). This July, there were two notable events in establishing the rights of same sex couples.
- A federal judge ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional. He stated “The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state.” (emphasis added)
- In Arizona, another judge barred the state from implementing a budget provision that would have stripped the same sex domestic partners of state employees of their health benefits, ruling that the law “burdens state employees with same-sex domestic partners more than state employees with opposite-sex domestic partners…”.
So, the Court says states have the authority to enact laws about same sex marriage (#1), unless they create a differential burden (#2). #2 is significant, because usually, feds generally don’t interfere when states enact budgets that disproportionately affect certain residents (i.e. by cutting mental health services, or requiring public employees to take a pay cut, etc.). I saw this in MA in 2003-2004 and now in AZ since 2009.
#1 is significant, given other debates about states’ rights. What about state laws blocking health care reform? What about state laws about immigration? The scope of states’ authority is a central question in the lawsuits filed to block both SB1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law (see related blog post), as well as the numerous lawsuits against federal health care reform.
Where does the federal government’s power begin and end? To what degree can the states enact laws that create different rules for their residents compared to other states? To what degree can states enact laws and constitutional amendments that contradict federal laws?
When is state sovereignty, well, sovereign? And when isn’t it?
The delicate balance of power that characterizes the three branches of the US government is one of the factors that has distinguished our fledgling democracy from other forms of government throughout human history. The role of the Court is to help answer such difficult questions and provide a “check” to the law-making and executive branches, to protect society from both the tyranny of the majority (legislative branch) and the minority (executive branch).
As a result, the opinion of the Court isn’t always aligned with the public opinion – nor should it be. For me, the brilliant design of the US democracy, including the role of the Court, causes peace of mind rather than fear.
If this country had waited for public opinion to turn around before the Court rendered decisions on segregation, how much longer would that evil have continued? How much longer would women have waited for the right to vote? Sometimes, we need a swift kick in the pants to start treating our fellow humans with more respect and dignity. Recently, I got this image in an email forward, which is apropos as the last word for this post.