THOSE OF US who have lived with the Bay State's marriage war for years can lose sight of how extreme we appear to much of the rest of the country.
This afternoon, the Legislature shot down the proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage. A few minutes after the vote, I was on the air discussing it with Dennis Prager, a nationally syndicated radio host based in Los Angeles. Citizen initiatives and referendums are nothing new to Californians, who vote on ballot issues all the time, but Prager wanted me to shed some light on the convoluted process a citizen-proposed constitutional amendment in Massachusetts must go through before it reaches the voters.
So I explained that even though 170,000 Bay State voters had signed petitions to put a marriage amendment on the ballot, it first had to undergo a vote in two consecutive sessions of the Legislature, and win support from at least 25 percent of the lawmakers each time. Since it had failed to do that, the amendment was now dead.
Prager wasn't sure he'd heard me right. Are you telling me, he asked in disbelief, that fewer than one in four Massachusetts legislators thinks marriage should be defined as the union of a man and a woman? Yes, I told him; the vote to kill the amendment was 151 to 45. "Incredible," said Prager.
Barring a new petition drive by supporters of traditional marriage, the battle over same-sex wedlock may be finished in Massachusetts. But today's vote on Beacon Hill is a political grenade waiting to detonate elsewhere. It is only a matter of time before a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts finds a federal judge prepared to rule that under the US Constitution, their marriage license must be granted "full faith and credit" by every other state. Same-sex marriage will be the law of the land.
Only a federal marriage amendment can keep that from happening. Today's vote may have settled the issue in Massachusetts. It has unsettled it everywhere else.
Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.