A Sad Day for Civil Rights

gay marriage(Photo via Thinkstock)

My wife and I were having dinner the other night with another couple, and we got onto a standard cocktail party question: Which other cities in America would you consider living in? My wife and I rattled through our list, with a few qualifications: Portland, Ore. (although, is it too rainy?), Austin (too hot?), San Francisco (too expensive?), and Philadelphia (too big of a chip on its shoulder?), plus a few others.

When we turned the question back to them, they looked at each other. “Well,” our friend said, “we would only move to a state where we could be married.”

Oh. Right. Because they’re gay, they’re remarkably limited in the places that they can live in if they want to enjoy marriage, a basic right accorded to straight, married couples like my wife and me. We don’t need to consider that our marriage wouldn’t be legal when we want to move — we can think about the weather, or the economy, or the nightlife — but they do.

For the most part, that means that this intelligent, thoughtful couple — the kind of couple that every city should be trying to attract — can really only live in the Northeast: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Washington D.C., New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont have all legalized gay marriage; they could also choose Iowa. (Maryland and Washington have passed gay marriage bills, but they have not yet gone into effect). That’s it. No Oregon, no California, no Pennsylvania, no Texas. Civil unions or domestic partnerships exist in a few of those states, as well as a few others, but not full marriage. That’s a shame.

Yesterday, in case you were stuck without any form of modern communication, saw two states continue to undercut gay rights. In North Carolina, which already had a law against gay marriage, voters added a ban against gay marriage and civil unions to its state constitution. In Colorado, meanwhile, a civil union bill — which was poised to pass the legislature with Republican support — was spiked by Frank McNulty, the speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives. Knowing that the bill would pass, McNulty refused to even let the bill come up for debate. That’s a particularly cowardly move and one I’m betting McNulty will regret. The tide of history is against him.

Colorado, North Carolina, and the rest of America will eventually catch up with the Northeast (and Iowa/Washington). Public support for gay marriage is skyrocketing (47 percent in favor; 43 against), and is particularly high among younger voters. It’s only a matter of time. But for now, the Northeast continues to lead. And that makes me happy to live in Massachusetts: A place that doesn’t just care about the rights of straight couples like my wife and me, but for the rights of gay couples, too.