Arizona has become the first state to reject a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage.
27 states have enacted such amendments, but opponents of gay marriage can no longer claim a 100% success rate. Gay activists who have pushed the marriage issue should be able to take heart from the Arizona result. Any major shift in societal mores, however inevitable, has to start somewhere, and now it has.
Some gay activists have opposed or regretted the elevation of the issue to prominence, worrying that it was premature and has resulted in a backlash. They may now be able to discern positive movement.
The call for extending marital rights to gay couples has developed logically from the increased visibility of both the “gay community” and gays in the wider community. No longer confined to the closet – although, of course, not entirely out of danger individually – gays feel freer than ever to demand equal rights. And just as society no longer countenances the denial of rights based on race, it must inevitably come to reject denying them based on sexual orientation.
The rationale behind granting gay couples the right to marry seems morally solid. No one can point to any actual harm that gay marriage could cause to anyone, whereas denying it causes demonstrable harm (economically, socially, morally) to those left out. Law professor Carlos A. Ball explores the similarities between Brown v. Board of Education and cases like the 2003 Goodridge decision in Massachussetts, which legalized gay marriage in that state.
American attitudes are changing fast. The Pew Research Center reported that opposition to legalizing gay marriage dropped from 63% in February 2004 to 51% in March 2006. The latest wave of amendments – those that passed – passed by smaller margins than the earlier ones did, on average. Far from being an affirmation of “traditional” values in re marriage, the constitutional bans are last-ditch, extreme attempts to shore up a rapidly weakening point of view.