MELISSA BLOCK, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
More now on same-sex marriage, which became legal today in Massachusetts. So what happens next? For some possible answers, we go back to our colleague Robert Siegel in Cambridge.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Three answers to that question from two opponents of same-sex marriage and one advocate. Over the next couple of years, Massachusetts could amend its constitution, by legislation and referendum, to define marriage as explicitly between a man and a woman. Boston College law Professor Thomas Kohler opposes same-sex marriage, and he says don't rule out a public vote to reverse the state's highest court.
Professor THOMAS KOHLER (Boston College): Right now it seems that a majority of people in Massachusetts would vote in support of an amendment that would recognize marriage as simply for a man and a woman, although I think civil partnership of some sort might also pass. It's hard to know.
SIEGEL: Professor Kohler teaches at a Catholic university. His church opposes same-sex marriage. And Thomas Kohler is concerned about institutions like Boston College or the Boston Archdiocese--he calls them dissenting institutions. Will they be forced to recognize unions that they consider sinful?
Prof. KOHLER: For example, will Catholic institutions be required to extend medical benefits to same-sex couples? In March, on March 1st, the Supreme Court of California, for example, held constitutional a law that required Catholic Charities to pay for contraceptives for its employees. This is the sort of thing that puts dissenting institutions in an almost untenable position. They either have to do what they consider to be this invention of active participation in an objective wrong or withdraw from the public sphere altogether. I expect to see a fair amount of litigation from this.
SIEGEL: Law Professor Thomas Kohler celebrates the institution of marriage and laments its decline, and so does journalist and author Jonathan Rauch, who is on the other side of the issue. He argues preserve marriage by opening it to gays. It's better than cohabitation without commitment or promiscuity. In his book "Gay Marriage," Rauch argues on very traditional conservative grounds. Jonathan Rauch doesn't live in Massachusetts. He is gay, and he would like to marry. But he says now is the time, both for him and gay activists elsewhere, to wait and let Massachusetts show that same-sex marriage can work.
Mr. JONATHAN RAUCH (Author, "Gay Marriage"): What we need is a demonstration project to allay the fears of straight America that this will destroy the foundation of marriage. I'd like to get married to my partner, Michael, but I can't get married in Massachusetts because it's against Massachusetts state law. And you know what? That's OK with me. I think it's good that we start this as a local experiment and not try to export it to the whole country all at once.
SIEGEL: Is it an experiment to you?
Mr. RAUCH: Sure, absolutely. This is an important change in the boundaries of marriage. But what's important to understand is that there will be an experiment of one kind or another. Gay couples are here to stay, and they will be socially and legally recognized. And the experiment is either going to be bring them into the big tent of marriage and say marriage is the gold standard for everybody, or begin inventing things like domestic partnerships and civil unions, or just giving the benefits of marriage to cohabitation. And I think that second set, of creating new forms of non-marriage, is a more radical and more dangerous experiment than saying marriage is for everyone.
SIEGEL: But if it's an experiment, what would constitute failure of the experiment, the people of Massachusetts would approve a constitutional amendment to undo the ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court?
Mr. RAUCH: Yeah. I think as a good a standard as we can ask for in a democracy is to put it before the community and say, 'Are you comfortable with this? Is it working for you?' I accept that although the moral burden should be on others to deprive me of the right to marry that the practical burden, after 3,000 years with no gay marriage, is on gay people to show that this will work, that this won't hurt anyone else's marriage, it won't break up other families, it won't leave children without fathers. And I think when the state of Massachusetts looks at it, I think they'll judge it a success. But yeah, I think the popular vote, and popular spirit, is as good a standard as you can get in a democracy.
SIEGEL: That's Jonathan Rauch, the author of "Gay Marriage."
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby has been trying to sort out how the foes of gay marriage, people like him, have lost the argument so far in Massachusetts, an argument that he thinks is bound to intensify.
Mr. JEFF JACOBY (The Boston Globe): I think it's only a matter of days before the first federal lawsuit is filed by a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts who will challenge the denial of some kind of benefit or rights in another state or at the federal level. I think that we have not yet nationally begun to get a sense of how big this is going to be. I think it's going to get a lot louder, a lot more unpleasant.
And I think that what is really called for, for people on my side of this argument, is to find a way to explain in comprehensible terms why it is that we feel this way.
SIEGEL: Why didn't that happen already? Why didn't opponents of same-sex marriage prevail and make their case clearer in this state?
Mr. JACOBY: Part of the reason is that it was something so taken for granted, that marriage means a man and a woman, by so many people that it never occurred to them for the longest time that this was an argument that needed to be made. And I think a piece of it is that there has been a cultural bias, a bias I would say by what I call the cultural elites. Certainly, the mainstream media have been much more friendly to the idea of same-sex marriage than to the idea that it shouldn't exist. But there is--I have to say there's been a failure to make the argument clearly in terms of public policy.
SIEGEL: How do you answer the argument of some homosexual couple that they want into the most fundamentally conservative institution that we know of, marriage?
Mr. JACOBY: To me, the question isn't: Why shouldn't two people who are in love, no matter what their gender, be allowed to marry? Because if that really is the only question, then there's no objection to an aunt and a nephew marrying, or to three people marrying. So the question has to be: What is marriage for?
SIEGEL: Jeff Jacoby says what marriage is for is making, as he puts it, out of the combustible mix of man and woman, children, with both mothers and fathers.
But the more you ask 'What is marriage for?' the more answers you come up with: It's for insurance coverage; it's for conveyance of an estate; it's for being treated as next of kin in medical emergencies; it's for filing joint tax returns. Modern marriage is not a simple matter of dowry paid, contract signed. It is more equitable and more complex; a multitude of mutual benefits and obligations enforced not just by church or conscience, but by the courts.
Who is entitled to that fabric of rights and duties? Is it inevitably synonymous with marriage, or can friends and foes of same-sex marriage split the difference somehow through some form of partnership? Those are some of the questions raised by this historic day, and many of the answers will unfold here, in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. I'm Robert Siegel.
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