Demonstrating for Same-Sex Marriage

Demonstrating for Same-Sex Marriage

First Parish Members Support Same-Sex Marriage at State House

Story by Jim Hamilton, photos by Sheila Lynch

Part of the colorful array of signs displayed by people of many faiths, backgrounds and orientations in support of retaining the right of same-sex couples to marry in Massachusetts. The issue is scheduled to be considered again by the legislature on Jan. 2, 2007.

On November 9, 2006, a group of us from First Parish Church of Duxbury walked the few steps from the Unitarian Universalist headquarters in Boston to the State House singing “Spirit of Life, Come Unto Me.” We were part of a group of Unitarian Universalists who had come to show our support for same-sex marriage. The group included the following folks from First Parish Church: Marilyn Christmann, Catherine Cullen, Sunsue Fleming, Nancy Landgren, Sheila Lynch, Liz Polvinen, Pat Slechta, Jackie Smith-Miller and me.

Banner supporting the right to same-sex marriage on the Unitarian Universalist Association’s headquarters in Boston, next to the State House

We all took the commuter train to South Station from Kingston. Pat’s daughter Catie and her boyfriend met us there.The same-sex marriage supporters gathered on the sidewalk in front of the State House. On the other side of the street were the folks who are against it. They supported the ballot initiative to bring the issue to a vote. Their signs read: “Let the People Vote!” It was a sea of green, with almost every sign the same.

On our side of the street it was a literal rainbow with many homemade signs. Some of them read: “Love Knows No Gender,” “Another Catholic 4 Marriage,” “Live and Let Love,” “No Discrimination in the Constitution” (this was the Mass Equality sign), “Should We Put YOUR Civil Rights to a Vote Next?,” “Civil Rights Are Family Values,” “Honk for Equality” and “Proud to Live in a Free State.”

Among the supporters there were also signs for Temple Israel Boston, the Massachusetts Bible Society and a lot of Unitarian Universalist churches.

There was a lot of chanting too. Here are some examples:

“We don’t want discrimination; not our state not our nation!”
“Equal marriage gay and proud; let me hear it clear and loud!”
“What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!”
“We don’t vote on civil rights!”
“Hey hey! Ho ho! Discrimination has got to go”

In addition to asking drivers to honk their horns, supporters were even asking the tourists who rode by in the duck boats to “Quack for us.”The only chanting I heard from the other side of the street was “Let the people vote!” At times, both sides chanted together in a such way that when the other side was chanting “Let the people vote!” our side chimed in with “Marry” so that it came out as “Let the people vote!” or “Let the people marry!” depending on who was louder.

Members of First Parish Church of Duxbury gather at South Station in Boston before heading to the demonstration in support of gay marriage rights at the State House.

An article in the Boston Globe the day after the demonstration said the opponents of same-sex marriage also sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but I never heard that, nor did I see people in costume (something else the Globe reported). Although most of the signs held by the same-sex marriage opponents were the green “Let the People Vote!” signs, there were a few homemade signs on the “anti” side of the street:

“What about Same Sex Conception?” “Government by the People,” “We Love You! But Biology Says Humans Are Hetero,” “Let the People Vote! It’s their Blood-Bought Right!” and “Give God His Rainbow Back.”

GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) was handing out purple stickers that said “Equal Justice under the Law. It’s Worth Fighting For!” There were definitely more same-sex marriage supporters than opponents. There were a lot more young people on the pro side too. I believe that the “pros” had about 250 supporters and the “antis” about half that many. Just as we were getting ready to leave the demonstration, we heard that the constitutional convention had convened but that same sex marriage was way down on the agenda. As we were walking back toward South Station through the common, a huge cheer went up from the demonstrators at the State House. We never found out what they were cheering about. In Downtown Crossing one of the street vendors asked me where I got my rainbow flag, which was hanging from my backpack. She wanted one too.

Meanwhile, lacking the votes to defeat the measure, the legislature voted to recess until January 2. While it was a victory for the same-sex marriage movement, it was a bit of a hollow one.

On January 2, when the Constitutional Convention reconvened, the legislators finally did end up voting on the petition. Needing only 50 votes out of 200 to move to the next step, the petition passed 62 to 138. The move was somewhat surprising since many observers had believed the convention would recess without voting on the matter, which would have prevented it from moving forward and would have eliminated the possibility of it appearing on the ballot in 2008. The legislators’ change of heart was largely due to a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that said that the legislators were bound by the constitution to vote. While the judges could not compel legislators to vote, they strongly recommended it.

The irony of the judges’ ruling is that on the one hand they told legislators that same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry under the constitution while on the other hand saying that the legislators had to vote on a petition that could well lead to the removal of that right. The conclusion one might draw from this mixed message is that the judges themselves are fighting over same-sex marriage. A slim majority feels that it should be legal under the current constitution, but at the same time the majority wouldn’t object to changes that would remove that right.

The next step will be another vote by the new legislature that has just been elected. Same-sex civil marriage supporters believe there is more support to kill the measure than in the previous legislature (seven additional votes by one estimate) but even so it seems likely that the next vote would be extremely close and that there may be 50 Massachusetts legislators who would vote to move the petition forward. This would mean that a same-sex question could be on the ballot in 2008 (at the same time as the presidential election). Can you imagine what would happen at that point? Divisive and harsh rhetoric would abound on a hotly contested issue in a presidential year. We can already see how Mitt Romney is positioning himself for this battle.

The Welcoming Congregation committee urges everyone to contact their legislators to express their concerns. Most importantly, we should work to change the votes of those South Shore legislators who remain opposed to same-sex civil marriage. From the House, these legislators are: Bruce Ayers, D-Quincy; Viriato deMacedo, R-Plymouth; Susan Gifford, R-Wareham; Frank Hynes, D-Marshfield; James Murphy, D-Weymouth; Robert Nyman, D-Hanover; Walter Timilty, D-Milton; A. Stephen Tobin, D-Quincy; and Daniel Webster, R-Hanson. From the Senate, these legislators are: Robert Creedon, D-Brockton; Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth; Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy; and James Timilty, D-Walpole.

Let’s do our best to change their minds. At the same time we must rededicate ourselves to being advocates for same-sex civil marriage. Let’s bring up the issue with our friends and relatives and show them why we feel so strongly. If this comes to a statewide vote we need to be eloquent and convincing so that voters will support continuing same-sex civil marriage rights. It would be a disgraceful if our state removed this important civil right from same-sex couples.

One thing that gives us some hope in the aftermath of the legislators’ vote to move the petition forward is that it came so suddenly. Perhaps legislators felt that in the next session the petition would not find 50 supporters. Perhaps they feel there is some other way to block it. If the report of seven additional supporters is correct, that means the current balance in the legislature would be 55 to 145, which means another six votes would be needed. Personally, I know that two of those votes could reside with my legislators, Frank Hynes and Robert Hedlund, both of whom voted yes on the petition. As a Marshfield resident and same-sex civil marriage supporter, I will be contacting both of them to urge them to re-consider their vote.

One last point: there was an odd irony in the legislators’ decision to vote on the petition. There was another ballot petition before the Constitutional Convention, a healthcare amendment. Legislators did not vote on that petition, effectively killing it. If the legislature had a constitutional obligation to vote on the same-sex marriage petition, then why not on the healthcare amendment? Is it simply a question of the controversy surrounding the same-sex civil marriage issue?