Published on
The Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Gay Marriage Putting Down Strong Roots

Deb Price

Last summer, I could almost smell the glorious fragrance of my favorite flowers, sweet peas, as I planted them in the warm, sunny, well-drained soil that the seed packet promised they would thrive in.

They sprouted quickly but never became more than seedlings. Actually, "seedlings" sounds way more robust than they looked. "Threads" is more like it.

Early this spring, my sweet peas shocked me by returning -- with stems as thick as my thumb. Looking like they spent the winter working out in a gym, my sweet peas are bound to blossom, if not this year, then next.

When gay marriage suddenly burst into full bloom across much of New England and in Iowa this spring, I immediately thought of my sweet peas: When conditions are right, some seeds produce very quickly. Others take a bit of time.

The really good news is that years and years of spadework have created the right conditions in much of the nation.

In state after state, openly gay men and lesbians have won seats in state legislatures, guaranteeing that their colleagues know someone for whom marriage equality is very personal.

Millions and millions of gay Americans have come out, gradually warming the attitudes of our straight friends, co-workers and relatives. And lawmakers, judges, governors and regular folks know that same-sex marriage has now been legal in Massachusetts for five years, and the sky hasn't fallen.

What a delightfully confusing season this has turned out to be. I'd have been happy to settle for the thrill of realizing that I could no longer recite by heart all the countries that have opened marriage to those of us who are gay. Norway's the most recent? No, no, that was back in January. Sweden is the latest to follow Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and South Africa. Oops, how could I forget Canada? Joyce and I married there.

How wonderful to see marriage equality finally spreading here at home this spring. First, Iowa bore fruit, because Lambda Legal smartly realized that state's Supreme Court was a fertile place to plant gay rights pleas. Then Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine started making such rapid progress that even with a scorecard, it's hard to keep up.

In Maine, state Sen. Lawrence Bliss, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, told colleagues about having married his partner in California last year while traveling there with their kids. Then a late frost killed off gay marriage in California. "My partner and I are once again just partners," Bliss lamented, according to The Associated Press. Maine lawmakers passed and Gov. John Baldacci immediately signed legislation allowing Bliss and other Maine gays to wed in their home state. (Vermont lawmakers had already taken that step by overriding their governor.)

Meanwhile, New Hampshire Rep. David Pierce, who AP says has two daughters with his partner, told colleagues, "When my kids grow up and are old enough to understand what we're doing here today, I want them to know I did everything I could to fight for our family." The state House and Senate embraced marriage legislation. If it doesn't become law this year, it surely will soon.

Going from one state to five took five years. But I now see hardy seedlings in a bunch of states. The next five -- and the five after that -- will come in time. Just ask the sweet peas.

Deb Price of the Detroit News writes the first nationally syndicated column on gay issues.

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