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Editorial: Gay marriage juggernaut

In 2004, in a scene repeated at city halls around the state, jubilant couples lined up at Northampton’s Memorial Hall to apply for marriage licenses after the commonwealth’s Supreme Judicial Court paved the way for same-sex marriage.

Other states are now following in our state’s footsteps. In ballot questions in four states Nov. 6, voters spoke in favor of extending the right to marry to lesbian and gay couples. Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington passed measures legalizing same-sex marriage. And Minnesota voters said no to a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have barred same-sex couples from marrying. A state law prohibiting same-sex marriage remains on the books in Minnesota — as do similar laws, it should be noted, in 31 other states.

Though the four state elections were overshadowed by the presidential campaign saga, they were significant.

For openers, the ballot questions marked the first time voters supporting same-sex marriage in their states carried the day at the polls against opponents. In Massachusetts and in the five other states and the District of Columbia where the right exists, it was established by the courts or by legislators.

While that made the right no less real or valued, opponents have argued that same-sex marriage lacks popular support and only exists because of activist liberal judges or politicians.

The Nov. 6 results weakened that argument and show that opinion on this issue is shifting toward a broader acceptance of same-sex marriage. Moreover, as reported in the New York Times Nov. 13, the advocates who ran the well-organized and well-financed campaigns that won Nov. 6 say they will continue the effort in at least six more states.

We say: Go for it.

It’s true that many people remain deeply uncomfortable, if not opposed, to the idea of same-sex marriage. But as the Massachusetts experience has shown, the reality of marriage equality hurts no one and destroys no one’s heterosexual marriage.

What marriage equality has done is provide couples and families with the strong and stable legal, economic and moral foundation enjoyed by straight couples for centuries.

Meanwhile, the political twists and turns will continue.

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether it will hear cases that involve same-sex marriage. One of them involves a federal employee married to another woman who wishes to add her spouse to her health care plan. The employee’s claim challenges the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages like hers.

Our hope is that the Nov. 6 momentum for marriage equality will continue pushing forward.

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