While MA is the only state in the US that currently permits same-sex couples to marry, those rights even in MA are still not fully settled. Today’s New York Times reports that the Massachusetts state legislature is nearly ready to vote on whether or not to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman only. In 2003 the MA Supreme Court ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the state’s constitutional guarantees of equal rights. Opponents countered with a constitutional amendment proposal which would change the constitution to specifically deny marriage rights to same-sex couples. That proposal is now coming before the state legislature. If the legislature approves the amendment, it will go to voters who will ultimately decide whether or not same-sex marriage will be permitted.
This raises important questions and I’m not the first to point them out but I can’t help repeat them. When addressing the rights of a minority, is it better to entrust decisions to a court or to a legislature or to the public? Courts are sometimes in a position to protect minority rights when “the people” still aren’t ready to recognize those rights. When Brown v. Board of Education was decided, desegregation was still so controversial as to require the calling out of National Guard troops to enforce order. Had “the people” been allowed to vote, would schools really have become desegregated? Yet we look back on that as a landmark ruling in favor of social justice.
Of course I’m currently outraged that the Court of Appeals in New York did not protect minority rights in its recent decision on the issue of same-sex marriage. It has put the decision back in the hands of the legislature and given them some pretty interesting language/rationale to use if they want to continue to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.
I hope that, if this amendment does in fact come before the people of MA, that they will do the right thing and support the Court’s decision to protect the rights of a minority group. I also hope this continues to spur discussion about how best to address minority rights in a democracy. We’re certainly not the only ones who need to figure that out!