In the end, no big deal

OK, so I was wrong.

The acceptance of gay marriage in Massachusetts has been swift and seamless. The earth didn’t shake, the sky didn’t fall, and skeptics, like me, must admit there have been no adverse consequences.

A supporter of civil unions, I believed marriage was a term that should only be applied to heterosexual unions for historic, moral, and religious reasons. That for obvious reasons the union between persons of the same sex was different; not less loving or lasting or fulfilling, only different.

It was their use of the term “marriage” that I objected to but I have changed my mind. I understand now how important the use of that term is to those who sought the right to be married. Anything less would have placed them in a separate class – one that despite equal rights – would connote inferiority
In a secular society that would have been unfair. Validation required something more than just equal rights; it required acceptance and that could not be achieved with a different label.

For heterosexuals of my generation, it was cataclysmic, a shredding of ancient traditions and beliefs. The world would slip on its axis if the natural order of things was challenged. But then nothing happened. It made no difference to us but so much to them.

The new order was accepted in the commonwealth with nary a blip. What was thought to be revolutionary quickly became routine. Many benefited and nobody was harmed. People of good will soon realized that tolerance and love are inseparable. You cannot love without accepting things you may not understand.

With marriage as a civil right, I remain puzzled how it can be restricted only to persons who have a sexual relationship, be it heterosexual or homosexual. If it provides legal benefits to them, why should it not also be available to persons with committed, loving relationships that do not involve sex; for example relatives or friends who live together and enjoy a longstanding, devoted, loving relationship?
Is sex between the parties implicitly required for them to secure the benefits available to married couples? What is the public policy behind mandating a sexual component to marriage?

I will leave that conundrum to the courts to decide when Rose and Kathleen, two spinster sisters who have lived together for a long time in a supportive, loving relationship decide they wish to take advantage of the legal advantages available only to married couples. Perhaps the courts will call them “civil unions.”

It is remarkable how quickly gay marriages have been absorbed into our local culture particularly when you consider the turmoil surrounding other civil rights struggles. Apparently we were ready for it.
The lesson to be learned is the elevation of gay relationships in no way has diminished traditional marriage. They are just different branches on the same tree.

So get over it. I did. It’s here to stay.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.