Friday, May 16, was a good day to buy a newspaper.
You would have a souvenir to show to your descendants. Headlines declaring "California High Court Overturns Gay Marriage Ban" will be something to see, especially if the decision becomes one of many affording same-sex couples the right to marry—and to call it marriage. Because there may be a day when anything other than equality, regardless of sexual orientation, is unimaginable.
Domestic partnerships and civil unions aren't a fair substitute for marriage, the California Supreme Court decided on May 15. But don't throw rice at this thing yet. A coalition of conservatives is sending in an assassin: a ballot measure in November that would lodge a ban on gay marriage into the state's Constitution. That would trump the court's Thursday decision.
California follows Massachusetts in allowing same-sex couples to marry, but the Wall Street Journal calls California's victory the most important on the gay rights front given the state's size and political weight. The California decision also uses language that more stridently protects same-sex marriages and invalidates "any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation," according to the L.A. Times.
"As California goes, so goes the rest of the nation," declared San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom. Let's hope so. Following San Francisco's lead on Feb. 20, 2004, in New Mexico the line at the Sandoval County Clerk's Office stretched out the door and down the hall. Couples that had celebrated all different anniversaries, from one year to 20, waited for their marriage license—and for the ax to fall.
It fell. The California Supreme Court ordered a halt to the San Francisco weddings. And here, Attorney General Patricia Madrid put a quick end to the urgent festivities. Gov. Bill Richardson said that day that he was opposed to same-sex marriages. He pushed for domestic partner legislation this year.
It seems a clerk, and now a court, can do what cowardly politicians in this country can't muster the courage for. Even our most "progressive" presidential candidates speak only of civil unions, an awkward distinction that does little but betray a bellyful of fear. Even County Clerk Victoria Dunlap said she let same-sex couples in New Mexico marry because there was no law against it. How about allowing gay couples to marry because it's the right thing to do?
As it stands, New Mexicans can marry in Massachusetts. There is no law in New Mexico that bans same-sex marriages. But those marriages may be respected in our state by some and not by others. The state and businesses can choose to not acknowledge those marriages. Attorney General Gary King refused to issue an opinion on how Massachusetts marriages would be regarded in New Mexico. Once again, happy couples find themselves suspended in legal purgatory; not supported, not admonished, just ignored.
We hope New Mexico politicians, clerks and courts can find the guts to support gay marriage in our state. Perhaps the momentum from California's historic decision will push the rest of us closer to the kind of bravery the country needs in this fight for equality. As Mayor Newsom says, "It's inevitable. This door's wide open now. It's going to happen, whether you like it or not."