Monday, June 16, 2008

Always the Bridesmaid....Never the Bride

It's June, the month for wedding showers and brides and weddings and honeymoons. Tens of thousands of weddings take place each year in June, and it's big business. It's going to get bigger as more states begin to allow same sex couples to wed. There is no doubt that tolerance and acceptance for gay and lesbian people has grown exponentially in the past quarter century, and if anyone doubts a future that is totally accepting of the gay community, including gay marriage, they need only talk to their children or their grandchildren.

California has become the most recent state to legalize gay weddings. Our country's largest state follows Massachussetts, Vermont, New Jersey and New York in granting the right to marry or recognizing same sex weddings. And this is just the beginning. Within most of our lifetimes, gay marriage will become commonplace most everywhere. It is the undeniable future and it is a good thing. If stable and loving relationships are beneficial to society, then we should eliminate barriers to having more of them.

It was just four years ago that the issue of same sex marriage burst onto the scene during the summer of the last presidential election. Vermont had become the first state to allow such weddings, and in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom had proclaimed that his city hall would perform such rites. Thousands of couples lined up in the rain to gain the rights and legal benefits that go with marriage. Then the backlash came down hard, and many states and courts said no. No right to marraige, no joint income tax filings. No right to inherit property or share custody rights. Republicans, including George Bush, used gay marriage as a wedge issue.
An increase in rural and conservative voters turnout in places like Iowa, Florida and Ohio
gave President Bush his re-election.

Times are different now. Polls show for the first time a majority of Americans willing to allow and accept same sex unions, including full marriage. And polls of young people, those under 30, show acceptance rates of the issue above 90 percent. Each year I speak to a thousand teenagers from around the world at university summer camps. For more than a decade I have asked each group how many believe that gay couples should be able to marry. Half used to raise their hands. Over the years, the percentage who agree has grown. Now, when I ask the question, every single hand goes up.

For the past eight years, the mayors of Ferndale have performed same sex union ceremonies at or near city hall. Beginning with former Mayor Goedert, and through six years with Mayor Porter, and now with me, Ferndale mayors have performed dozens of such weddings. They are not legally recongnized yet, but they will be soon. Of that I have absolutely no doubt. Michigan won't be next. Our state from some reason is unable to lead our nation with progressive ideas.
The next states to legalize gay marriage will be places like Oregon, Washington, and Rhode Island. They will join several countries that have same sex marriage such as Spain, Canada, and the Netherlands, and now Norway.

There will continue to be resistance, of course. Certain African nations and Muslim countries have homophobia deeply imbedded in their cultures. And Mississippi, Alabama and Oklahoma will take their time coming around.

In Michigan, mayor's have the authority to perform legal marriages. Since becoming mayor of Ferndale, I have performed about ten weddings between men and women. I enjoy this duty and view it as a priviledge. The irony is that I can perform such ceremonies, but should I ever find a partner who agrees to a proposal on bended knee from me, that he and could not be legally married in my own state of Michigan. At least not yet.