At the same time that we celebrate the seventh
anniversary of the Commonwealth
of Massachusetts granting
same-sex couples the right to marry, we must renew our commitment to struggle
against state control of our personal lives and our bodies. The Supreme Judicial Court's
decision - the first in the nation, with four other states and the District of Columbia quickly following suit was a great,
and important moment for Massachusetts and the
The quest for equality under the law moved one step further to the ideal of the
promises of the Constitution.
Equality under the law is one of the traditions
in a long history of the struggle for freedom, but it is not the only one, or
even the most important, and for GLBT people it is, indeed, the most recently
American women and men have demanded not equality
under the law, but rather the freedom to make decisions about all aspects of
their personal behavior - including, or perhaps especially, their sexual behavior.
The ability to make these choices - and to resist state sponsored control of
their personal lives - was, for many, understood to be the bedrock of both
individual and collective freedom.
This tradition is embedded in, and drove, the earliest
incarnation of the LGBT movement: the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis,
both founded in the 1950s. But this insistence on the ethical imperative that
all humans should have the ability to make decisions about their sexual
partners and activities has deep roots in American cultural and political traditions.
For LGBT people these traditions are vitally important because they were the
first manifestations of resistance to dangerous and often deadly attitudes that
permeated American culture.
We see this resistance in the works of Walt Whitman and his celebration
of all sexuality - including same-sex love and activity - at the root of
American democracy. We see it in the life and speeches of Victoria Woodhull -
the first woman to run for President on a national ticket in 1872 (before she
or any other woman in
could vote, of course). She insisted on the doctrine of "free love" and the
constitutional right of every American to keep their sexual partners for as
long or a short as time as they choose. It is in Emma Goldman's turn of the
century speeches, called for an end to laws that criminalized homosexual behavior.
And we see it in the writings of Alexander Berkman who wrote movingly of his
own homosexual experiences in prison Harry Hay, the founder of the homophile
movement in America in the 1950s was most concerned that women and men were
arrested and jailed for the simply having sexual contact with members of their
Each of these writers and activists - and many other defenders of
personal sexual liberty - saw their liberation as part of a larger political
movement for the freedom of all people to live their lives without government
or social interference. The larger vision of liberation and the connection to a
broader freedom agenda has been lost to some degree as the contemporary LGBT
movement focused more narrowly on the rights and needs of LGBT people.
Attaining the right to marry is an important step to making sure that LGBT
Americans have equality under the law. The right affects few people -
those who are able to and choose to get married, as well as their children. As
we celebrate this anniversary of same-sex marriage in the Commonwealth - an
important step towards equal legal rights before the state - to consider how
far we have to go until LGBT people are also truly liberated from the state and
social controls that surround us.
Boston Phoenix coverage of the 2004 ruling on gay marriage
Boston Phoenix coverage of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention