No turning back

May 18, 2004

AMERICA was changed forever yesterday as Massachusetts became the first state to allow couples of the same gender to marry.

Opponents of the court-ordered policy hope a national backlash to the spectacle, and legal complications arising from it, will create enough pressure to stop the gay marriage revolution and reverse its course.

Yet there seemed little fuel for such indignation amid the whoops and cheers, the flowers and cake, the nervous giggles and broad smiles that marked courthouse nuptials throughout the state.

"It's shows the rest of the world we're as normal as normal is," Valerie Carrano of Provincetown told a New York Times reporter as she waited in line for a license to marry Diane Corbo, her partner of 28 years. "We're everybody."

Plenty of uncertainty lies ahead. The legislature and voters of Massachusetts could adopt a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Officials of other states could refuse to honor Massachusetts marriages. The Supreme Court could weigh in. Congress could approve and states could ratify a constitutional amendment defining marriage as limited to heterosexual pairs.

But the overall trend seems irreversible.

The issue of gay marriage is about allowing individuals the freedom to make on their own the most personal and private of decisions - and to have those decisions recognized in traditional fashion by the society.

Once that freedom has been granted, how can any American institution take it back?

President Bush sees which way the wind is blowing. To placate the hard-core conservatives in his base, he issued a statement yesterday declaring "the sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges." He also repeated an earlier call on Congress to pass and send to the states a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and woman, calling the need "urgent."

Mr. Bush isn't actually lobbying for the amendment, though, which is far short of the votes it would need to pass, and he rarely speaks of the issue on the campaign trail. Yesterday's comments were simply put out by the White House.

Religious and conservative organizations trying to stem the tide of tolerance toward gay marriage complain it's hard to get people outside of Massachusetts - or San Francisco, Oregon and other spots where gay nuptials have been conducted in defiance of the law - to get worked up about it. They don't see how it affects their lives.

The opportunity to formalize unions sometimes decades in the making means everything, though, to those couples in Boston and Cambridge and Provincetown.

There's no turning back on that.

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