An elderly Massachusetts woman felt her opposition to gay marriage melt away after "this lovely couple" moved in next door with their children.
Her change of heart, recounted by the Boston Globe, happened because she came to see the gay men -- among the nearly 10,000 gay couples who've wed in her state since 2004 -- as the neighbors eager to lend a hand.
"If they can't be married in Massachusetts, they're going to leave -- and then who would help me with my lawn?" she asked, urging her state lawmaker to also change and protect gay couples' right to marry by blocking a referendum designed to abolish that right. That lawmaker did change.
And so did others, leading to a stunning victory for equality: On June 14, opponents of gay marriage failed to clear a very low hurdle. To put the anti-gay measure on the state's 2008 ballot, they needed just 25 percent of the legislature. They fell 5 votes short.
The proposal was crushed, 151-45, after Gov. Deval Patrick weighed in against it. Afterward, he declared, "In Massachusetts today, the freedom to marry is secure." Now, a ban couldn't go to voters until 2012, after five more years of lovely married gay couples mowing elderly neighbors' lawns.
June 2007 is the month gay marriage proved it won't always be a "hot button." Massachusetts demonstrated its comfort.
Just days later, the state Assembly in neighboring New York embraced allowing gays to marry, 85-61.
That was the fourth time a state legislative body has voted to open marriage to gay couples. California has done so three times: Nearly two years ago, the Senate and Assembly passed it, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed. The Assembly passed it again on June 5 by 42-34.
Gay leaders find success has key ingredients: Build a statewide coalition that includes clergy, unions and business. Plus, get gay couples and their allies to describe the pain marriage discrimination causes. Also, a governor's support is hugely helpful. Patrick and New York's Eliot Spitzer both won landslides last November as vocal advocates of gay marriage.
"What politicians are realizing is that the smart money is betting on the future, and the fact that young people support this and that the American people are increasingly open to it," says Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry.
Support for gay marriage is inching toward a majority -- to 46 percent in the national Gallup poll released May 26. Support is overwhelming -- 62 percent -- among voters under 35.
Equality has friends of all ages, of course. On June 12, the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Loving v. Virginia ruling that swept away laws against interracial marriage, Mildred Loving spoke up for gay marriage.
Mrs. Loving, a black woman now in her late 60s, said the case she and her white husband Richard won "can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."
Freedoms are secured one court case at a time, one legislature at a time, one lawn at a time. That truly is the American way.
Reach Deb Price at (202) 662-8736 or firstname.lastname@example.org.