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A simple reality

The new era supposedly ushered in by the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling on gay marriages is already 48 hours old. So far Massachusetts seems to be coping.

But that wasn't the scenario articulated at the press conference held Tuesday by the Massachusetts Family Institute and some of its ideological allies. In their eyes, this was nothing less than an assault on all the values they hold dear.

They reduced an important issue and a historic decision to a cartoon, citing "2,500 studies" purporting to prove that same-sex couples make lousy parents. Believe me, anyone on the fence about gay marriage should just listen to this crowd for half an hour. They will make up your mind for you.

Their idea that a Donna Reed family is the only valid family might have been a tad simplistic. Yet, the question of whether gays can marry is at heart a simple one, and the SJC deserves credit for reducing it to those simplest terms. If marriage is a fundamental right, as it is, then everyone should have the right to marry. Ultimately, this decision recognizes, and codifies, social changes that have been evolving over decades.

Assuming that a ballot question on gay marriage is coming by 2006, many people I respect have predicted three years of nonstop civil strife over this issue. They're probably right. The middle-path civil unions option chosen by Vermont may well be off the table here, both legally and politically. If the choice is between a world with gay marriage and a world without, the battle over Clean Elections will look like a junior high debate.

As I've maintained before, this to my mind is hardly the greatest challenge to the sanctity of marriage. No, that would be the succession of nutty television shows in which one humiliated contestant after another is discarded before one of them "wins" the path to the altar. What kinds of marriages will those be? If MFI president Ron Crews is so concerned about the American family, why doesn't he take on "The Bachelor"?

Or as one liberal political consultant put it yesterday, "If marriage is so sacred, why don't they outlaw divorce?"

Activists for same-sex marriage are fond of referring to it as a civil rights issue. But I haven't heard any of them make that case as eloquently as Justice John M. Greaney, who never used the term in concurring Tuesday with the slender majority:

"The plaintiffs volunteer in our schools, worship beside us in our religious houses, and have children who play with our children, to mention just a few ordinary daily contacts. We share a common humanity and participate together in the social contract that is the foundation of our Commonwealth. Simple principles of decency dictate that we extend to the plaintiffs, and to their new status, full acceptance, tolerance and respect. We should do it because it is the right thing to do."

Governor Mitt Romney, who wasted no time stating his opposition to the ruling, thundered that his position has 3,000 years of history behind it. That's true, but maybe the more relevant date is 1967, the year the US Supreme Court ruled that laws in the South against interracial marriage could no longer be enforced. (In some states, those laws remained on the books for years, just as a reminder of where people stood.) The legacy of Loving v. Virginia, a decision widely rued in its day, is that the state can't decide whom you can't marry. Again, a simple question.

Tuesday's decision was barely online before it was declared an "issue" in the 2004 presidential campaign. It's likely to resonate longer than that, since the question could well go before voters during the next governor's race. Brace yourself for million-dollar campaigns and countless attack ads. But underneath all the noise will lie a simple reality: That this is the right thing to do.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

Ross Ozer and his partner, Scott Gortikov Ross Ozer (left) and his partner, Scott Gortikov, took their 18-month-old son, Sam Ozer-Gortikov, to a celebration of the court ruling at the Old South Meeting House. Gortikov proposed marriage to Ozer after hearing of the decision. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
Dan Avila and Maria Parker Dan Avila and Maria Parker of the Mass. Catholic Conference denounced the ruling. (Reuters Photo)
Text of the decision
Gay population
The 2000 Census estimated there were about 19,000 gay couples in Mass., and about 659,000 nationwide, or less than 1 percent of households. Provincetown is the community in Mass. with the highest rate of gay partners, about 15 percent of households.
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