First Vermont allowed civil unions for gay couples. Then Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. California followed (but we know what happened there; stay tuned for more), as did Connecticut and Iowa, and then -- oh, wait -- Vermont ended up going all the way, offering full marriage to same-sex couples. Illinois has a civil union bill on the legislative ballot, and New York Gov. David Paterson is pushing to give gay couples the same marriage rights as straight couples in his state. Lawmakers in Maine, New Hampshire and New Jersey are considering the same for their residents. Washington D.C.'s lawmakers have moved to recognize gay marriages performed in other states (a final legislative vote will take place on May 5). What's interesting, but not unexpected, is that all the states granting marriage rights to gay couples are in the North. Even the states that recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships, such as Washington and Oregon, are in the North. Do we think this trend will start to move below the Mason-Dixon line, or is that where state legislators will, well, draw the line? Could gay marriage be the new civil war in our country?
When California's Prop 8 passed in November, taking away same-sex marriage rights that had been granted by the California Supreme Court, many people declared that "Gay is the New Black." Activists across the board drew comparisons between current gay struggles and the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Just as black people were once denied certain rights -- including the ability to marry a white person -- many gay couples feel they are facing similar discrimination today.
Don't get me wrong -- in no way am I saying that gay marriage and the African-American Civil Rights Movement are equally weighted; black people in America historically have had it much worse, but similarities do exist. Black people were targets of hate, sometimes just for looking the wrong way at a white person. Gay people have been targeted, sometimes just for dressing differently or coming out of a gay bar. But on the whole, the black struggle for freedom and equality has been far more difficult. However, that doesn't mean gay people should be treated as second-class citizens and denied the same rights as everyone else in America.
We have to wonder what would happen if a federal gay-marriage bill were passed (having the United States join Spain, Canada, South Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden in marriage equality). Would it cause a new civil war? Would it bring people out into the streets demanding that their state secede from the Union?
Likely not. But it is interesting that all the states that have come out thus far on the side of gay marriage are up North. I would love to see a Southern state, say Louisiana, be bold enough to become the next Iowa. Think it'll happen? Doubtful, but it's nice to dream.