July 16, 2008

Massachusetts 1913 Marriage Law on the Way to the Grave

The Massachusetts Senate has voted to repeal the 1913 Marriage Law that was designed originally to stop out-of-state interracial couples from getting married in this state if interracial marriage was illegal in their home states. On a historical note, such marriages have been legal in Massachusetts since 1843, but social norms at the time were such that enforcement of the 1913 law was rare if it happened at all. The reason the law was passed 70 years after Massachusetts legalized interracial marriage is cited by Senator Dianne Wilkerson in today's Boston Globe article:

Boxer Jack Johnson and his wife, circa 1913.  The reason that Massachusetts passed a very backward law in the first place.  Image courtesy of The Root.The 1913 law has racist roots. It grew out of the national backlash over the interracial marriage of heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, Wilkerson said. At the time, 30 of 48 states banned interracial marriage, and many other states, including Massachusetts, enacted provisions that would keep interracial couples from crossing borders to marry in their jurisdiction.
Next up is the state House of Representatives, which could vote to repeal the law as early as the end of this week. If it clears that hurdle — and it's expected to do so — the repeal will be signed by Governor Deval Patrick.

Same-sex couples from any state can already get married in California as that state didn't have a law like the 1913 Marriage Law on its books. Governor Ahnold had already extended a public invitation to those couple to do so. Moreover, New York's Governor David Paterson has already directed that state's agencies to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states. With the repeal of the law, couples from New York will have a shorter trip ahead of them.

Of course, the usual suspects are lining up to oppose the deserved demise of this moldy old piece of legislation. For instance,
Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston joined with the state's three other Catholic bishops in appealing to lawmakers to keep the 1913 law on the books for constitutional, religious, and cultural reasons. They said eliminating the law would infringe on the rights of other states to set their own marriage laws, and they emphasized their commitment to the traditional definition of marriage.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Stick to protecting your magical crackers and leave the questions about marriage to people who can actually get married and haven't taken on unnatural vows of celibacy. It's always heartwarming to see clergy sticking up for laws designed to "protect" society against miscegenation. Some things never go out of style, especially when one is a dedicated adherent to a belief system that still practices Iron Age ritual incantation. The fact is, other states don't have laws like this on the books and nobody was complaining about it. This has nothing at all to do with constitutional rights and everything to do with committed intolerance. Aren't priests as duty-bound to be honest as they are to keep their little bishops in their pants? I've never had much respect for clergy, but even my respect for people like O'Malley as human beings wanes that much more with dissemblance such as this.

And, of course, there's always a few of these in the crowd:
Kris Mineau, who has lobbied against the repeal as president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said he hopes the House will deliberate at greater length on the bill and consider the "legal quagmire" that could result for other states if their residents flock to Massachusetts to marry...

"We're going to be here until the cows go home," he said. "We're going to continue to advocate what we believe is right and what is in the best interest of our society and our children, and when the time comes that this Legislature starts waking up to reality, our voice will be there..."
The cows are going home, and Mineau should join them. The Legislature has already awakened to reality by euthanizing an outdated law that was born in bigotry and has lingered like a malignancy in the dark recesses of dusty law tomes until it was brought forth again in the 21st century to be used as a blunt force against a different set of marginalized people than those against which it was initially intended to discriminate. I do like that last line, though. The voice of Mineau and his Massachusetts Family Institute will only be there so long as the Legislature hasn't quite awakened to reality. Once they do so — and the Senate's vote certainly indicates that the alarm clock's gone off — then that voice will vanish in a mephitic puff of disintegrating dream-stuff.

I rarely find reason to praise government, but this is one of those instances. Not only is the repeal of the 1913 Anti-Miscegenation Statute the right thing to do, it will also bring money into the state. To that end, I hope that some of these couples will consider tying the knot in scenic Worcester. In fact, I hope they'd consider settling here. I'd rather see a gay-friendly enclave along the lines of San Francisco's Castro District than what now squats in the dilapidation of the Main South area; wouldn't anyone?

Don't be too concerned about the O'Malleys and Mineaus of our state; those cows are going home.

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