It's Not Magic
Writings of a techie wizard
Sat, 25 Jun 2011
What's Up With That? No. 1
This is the first of what will no doubt be many dispatches from the "what's up with that?" department.
There was much rejoicing by many at the news yesterday that New York has passed a law permitting same sex marriage. This post is not about that issue, though I will say that I support such laws; "equal protection" is supposed to mean what it says, and if the state is going to provide special benefits to people who make life commitments to each other, it has no business saying that some couples can get them and some can't. But that's for another post someday.
While watching coverage of the event on CNN, one item struck me: it will be 30 days before any same-sex couple can actually apply for a marriage license under the new law. Nobody who mentioned this seemed to find it worthy of any further remark, nor have any of the print (or online) articles I have seen. But think about this for a moment: what, exactly, is required in the way of implementation of this law? All it says is that the state no longer needs to check your gender when you apply for a marriage license. Do they have to change the form to eliminate that block or something? What, exactly, is preventing the state government from simply issuing a memo to all state officials Monday morning that says they can now issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples? Why does it take 30 days? It's not like the vote was unexpected; they've been working on this for months, and they certainly had all the press releases ready to go the moment the governor signed the law.
Perhaps I'm making too much of this, but it seems to me that our standards for what a large organization with a lot of resources ought to be able to accomplish have lowered over the years. President Kennedy famously promised a man on the Moon in ten years, and the Apollo program made the deadline with room to spare. Now the US government has decided not to even try to go back. Fortunately NASA is not the only player in this game, but it makes one wonder why no one even seems to care any more that they're not the top player, as they used to be. Mind you, I'm all for free enterprise, and I'm proud to live in the only country in the world where people do manned spaceflight for fun, on their own dime. But there's still something sad about NASA today compared with the NASA that landed six missions on the Moon in the space of three years. Whatever happened to "failure is not an option"?
We also seem to have forgotten what legislative power is supposed to mean. I don't have a time machine to check, of course, but I strongly suspect that if you told an average US citizen in 1790 (or even more an average US legislator in 1790) that, in an age of instant global communication, it would take 30 days for a law that does nothing but change one simple rule to take effect, they would look at you like you'd grown a second head or something. Back then a law took effect when it was passed, and that was that. If you didn't like it, well, sometimes you lose. Or you start a revolution. But that is an extreme measure, only to be used when all other avenues have been exhausted. Certainly that's not the case here; this law is not the Stamp Act. It imposes no burden whatsoever on people who do not want to participate in a same-sex marriage. But there are plenty of people who will want to comply with this law as soon as they possibly can. And yet it's like we have to give people who don't like the law time to adjust, simply because the law makes them feel bad and they need time to get over it before we actually make it a law. I don't know, of course, that that is the primary reason for the 30-day delay; as I noted above, no one has even remarked on this at all, so no rationale for it has been discussed. But I wonder if something like a "get over it" period is not part of the reason, at least subconsciously.
It's true that, in the grand scheme of things, 30 days is insignificant. People have been waiting for years for this, and there are plenty still waiting in other states. I sincerely hope that people who get their New York marriage licenses in 30 days will look back 30 years from now and laugh at this last little quirk of the system before it gave them the same opportunity to marry as heterosexual couples. At the same time, I can't help but wonder what Americans of the past would think of the fact that it will take longer for a simple new law to take effect in New York than it took to change the course of the Revolutionary War in the Battles of Saratoga. How times have changed.
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