Like millions of Americans, I applaud President Obama's decision to firmly support marriage equality. However, I can't help noting, with a bit of regional pride, that the pathway to equal treatment for gay and lesbian Americans was paved by two old-school, live-and-let-live Massachusetts Republicans -- William Weld and Paul Cellucci.
Weld, the governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, appointed Margaret Marshall and Roderick Ireland to the state's Supreme Judicial Court; Cellucci, the governor of Massachusetts from 1997 to 2001, appointed Judith Cowin to the SJC. In November 2003, Marshall, Ireland, Cowin and Michael Dukakis-era appointee John Greaney issued a trailblazing decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, ruling that same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry in the Commonwealth.
That historic ruling prompted months of screaming and yelling from the state's social conservatives; then-Governor Mitt Romney's over-the-top denunciation of the ruling alienated Bay State independents and moderates, paving the way for Deval Patrick's 2006 election as governor. At the time, I disagreed with the ruling, feeling that civil unions provided sufficient legal protection to same-sex couples. It took me a few years to realize that marriage -- not civil unions, but marriage -- was the only way that gay and lesbian couples could receive equal justice under law.
I'm struck by the parallels between the marriage equality debate and the climate change controversy. In both cases, we have a fight between people arguing for changes to public policy based on a compelling governmental interest and people who feel such changes are unnecessary and potentially destructive. In both cases, we have a fight between the forces of principled reform and the forces of business as usual. In both cases, we have a fight between those who are focused on the future and those who revere the past.
In this debate, Obama embraced progress, change, righteousness. His statement was beautiful to watch. I knew that the minds of hearts of Americans were already changing -- call it The Ellen Effect, if you will -- but I never imagined that a sitting president would declare, with no hesitation or apology, that gays and lesbians were indeed full citizens.
Hopefully, Obama's speech will encourage Republicans who secretly support marriage equality to make similar statements in favor of freedom. While the public face of the GOP is the grimace of Buchanan/Santorum homophobia, I know that there are plenty of Republicans who are personally in favor of full marriage rights; they're just afraid of being rebuked by right-wingers in their social circle. They need to step out of the closet of fear and proclaim that Dick Cheney and Ted Olson are right on this issue.
I also hope that Obama's embrace of marriage equality will mark the beginning of the end for African-American homophobia in the U.S. African-American scorn of gays and lesbians never made sense to me; didn't homophobic blacks ever read Matthew 7:1-5?
I'll never forget being sixteen years old and listening in horror as a black pastor stated that he would have a problem if his son "chose" to be gay. I immediately thought to myself that if I were a gay white man, and I heard that such beliefs were popular in the African-American church, I would regard those who held such views with deep, lasting contempt. If someone is so shortsighted as to really think it's a choice...
African-American homophobia the epitome of irrational prejudice, and it's a relief to see Obama reject such homophobia as immoral (as Patrick did years ago). The divide between African-Americans and the LGBT community is a national tragedy; it is long past time to heal this particular breach.
Obama's announcement was an act of morality and patriotism. He understood that he had a duty to history, a duty to decency, a duty to justice. He understood the same core principle that Patrick articulated years ago: the idea that citizens come before their government as equals. He did the right thing. He heard a plea for help -- a scream for equality -- and he ran to provide assistance. That's an act of conscience.
Despite the complaints of conservatives, the scorn of those who are saved only in theory, and the hateful words of those who still want to subjugate gays and lesbians, I have to say:
God bless you, President Obama. God bless you.
And thank you.