Monday, February 27, 2012

Right Here Right Now (or why Maryland just got more palatable)

If the work of David Simon has taught us anything, it is that Maryland is a hellhole. However, just as a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut, Maryland sometimes gets things right.

Lost amid the carnage of the Wisconsin/Minnesota blawg war was the story that the Maryland legislature has passed a bill legalizing same sex marriage. Maryland's Governor is expected to sign the bill into law. Assuming that happens, Maryland will become the eighth state to legalize gay marriage. The happenings in Maryland contrast those in New Jersey where the Governor of New Jersey vetoed the New Jersey legislature's attempt to legalize same sex marriage (although the veto may be overridden). Meanwhile, Minnesotans will get to vote in November on whether to make Minnesota's ban on same sex marriage part of the Minnesota Constitution. Also, Judge Tonya Parker, a judge in Dallas, Texas has decided to turn down requests to perform marriages until same sex marriage is legal in Texas. Because of this the blawg Above the Law has named Judge Parker it's "Judge of the Day." (As an aside, the Judge of the Day is a weird honor. The most recent winner of the Judge of the Day before Judge Parker got the award because he was caught on video beating his disabled daughter.)

Whether you are David Boies or failed Iowa gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats, I think everyone can agree the fact that 16% of the states now allow same sex marriage is remarkable. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law on September 21, 1996. It was fast track legislation and passed with overwhelming majorities in both houses (85-14 in the Senate; 342-67 in the House of Representatives). Now, before the bill is old enough to drive in most states, it seems that laws prohibiting same sex marriage are being consigned to the ash heap of history.

The only law that I can think of that rivals DOMA in terms of being popular when passed but quickly becoming unpopular is the Eighteenth Amendment, i.e., the prohibition amendment. However, it was somewhat more controversial as it only passed 65-20 in the Senate and 282-128 in the House of Representatives. Those are certainly healthy margins but not as healthy as the ones when DOMA passed.

Anyway, my favorite professor once commented one knows one is witnessing an amazing historical event when something happens that seemed unimaginable shortly before. He was speaking of the fall of the Berlin Wall but the sentiment is applicable here. DOMA passed by such wide margins because politicians in both parties thought that voting for it was a surefire way to please voters. At the time it was hard to visualize the possibility that same sex marriage would become legal by any manner other than court intervention. Yet, Maryland, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and (depending on whether a referendum defeats the legislation) Washington have all used the legislative process to legalize same sex marriage. Obviously politicians no longer feel that banning same sex marrriage is a surefire way to please voters. I doubt supporters of same sex marriage in 2006, let alone, 1996, would have thought this would happen so quickly.

Finally, a word of caution to folks in Minnesota (and possibly Washington, Maryland, and New Jersey where anti-gay marriage groups are pledging to mount ballot campaigns to overturn the laws), you might want to stay out of pizza restaurants until after November.

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