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News :: GLBT/Queer
The Massachusetts Constitution Has Not Been Amended to Ban Gay Marriage--For Now
13 Feb 2004
The Constitutional Convention is now in recess until Thursday, March 11. Following two days of wrangling over multiple amendments and fillibustering by opponents of any amendment (the supporters of gay marriage), no amendment has been voted out of the ConCon to amend the Constitution--yet. On the first day of the ConCon, the crowds on the street were huge--competing sides shouting, holding signs, arguing past each other, and the like. On the second day, the people who were there--about 500 at its peak--were overwhelmingly people who supported the rights of same-sex couples to marry. I don't think I saw a group of same-sex marriage opponents larger than 5 people all day Thursday. The fight isn't over. The ConCon will resume on March 11. My experience in legislative work, indeed in any form of queer work, says we're going to lose. I still think that some kind of amendment restricting marriage to only opposite-sex couples will pass. I'm also fairly confident, though, that when (if) this amendment goes to the citizens of MA, they will reject it. The polling data I've seen so far has shown support for same-sex marriage itself as slightly ahead of not allowing it. Opposition to amending the Constitution is at around 60%.
Following are three e-mails from a friend who participated in the protests in support of gay marriage at the State House over the last few days. -- Matthew Williams

e-mail 1 (Wednesday, February 11, 2004):

The Constitution remains unamended-For now

Hi all,

I just got back from the State House. What a day! The General Court has recessed the Constitutional Convention for the evening and will go back into session at noon tomorrow.

A quick thing. So far, as I'll explain below, two proposed amendments have been defeated. But, this issue is far from settled. Although most legislators have probably made up their minds. (I say probably, because some of the weird finagling today cause a couple of people I thought would be stalwarts to change certain votes.) More action may still be able to sway legislators. So, if people feel like it's something they want to do, a call to your legislators might be a good thing. Here's another thing, though. Some folks have talked about voting against every amendment. I'd alter that a little. From my perspective, the language in the Barrios Amendment, would be more than acceptable (again, explanation below). You can get through to your legislators' offices through the Sate House Switchboard: 617-722-2000. If you're not sure who you're legislators are, you can find out at this web site:

Thanks in advance.

Now, on to what happened today. I arrived at the State House at around 12:45 or so. The crowds on the street were huge--competing sides shouting, holding signs, arguing past each other, and the like. I walked through and stood off to the side for a while, just to watch. It was quite uncomfortable, as the area where I was standing tended to be populated by folks opposed to same-sex marriage, including a few who were expressing downright hate (like one guy who had a sign that read "If dykes like women so much why do they try to look like men" and kept yelling "fag" at people.) Made may way inside the building (after standing in line and going through security) at about 2:00.

The calendar listed an amendment by Representative Travis of Rehobeth as the main order of business. This is the primary one (still alive) that would insert basic "Defense of Marriage Act" language into the Constitution. It could have the effect of banning civil unions and removing any kind of domestic partner benefits from State employee contracts--but that's not completely clear.

Now comes the fun aspect of legislative procedure. Senator Jarret Barrios (D-Cambridge) offered an amendment that would remove the language from the Travis amendment and replace it with "Marriage is the union of two consenting adults" (paraphrasing--don't have the language in front of me). While Senate Minority leader Lees was discussing the issue, House Speaker Finneran (the man never tires of being a complete ass) offered an amendment (that should have been ruled out of order--even according to Lees) that would replace the language in the Barrios Amendment with "Marriage is the union between a man and women. At some point in the future, the General Court may consider whether and how to provide civil union benefits to same-sex couples." (Again a paraphrase, but the issue of "may" did figure into debate.)

Several legislators got really fussy at this point. Finneran came in for a lot of criticism because he has refused to allow any kind of domestic partner benefits bills to be dealt with in the House. Members of both the House and Senate slammed him pretty good, though he did have a few defenders (Rep. Tolman and some crazy woman who represents Milford--her speech on the floor was the some of the most bizarre stream of consciousness crap I've ever heard). Some of the debate centered on the fact that he has refused to allow such legislation in the past--how could House members trust him to bring civil unions up in the future based on his past action? I won't rehash all of the debate here (I couldn't remember it all, anyway). The issue finally came to a vote--the amendment to replace the language in the Barrios amendment with the Finneran's language lost by a vote of 100-98. Big bullet dodged!

Next, Senate Minority Leader Brian Lees introduced and amendment (co-sponsored by himself and Senate President Robert Traviglini (I know I spelled that wrong)) to replace the Barrios language with the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) language plus statutory language that would enshrine civil unions in the Constitution as a separate category. This is the "compromise" that was all over the Boston newspapers today. One aspect of it would take same-sex couples who were married after May 17 of this year (the SJC's deadline) and demote those marriages to civil unions upon passage of the Amendment by the people of Massachusetts. This is the point where things got just plain weird.

Some supporters of the Travis and Finneran language (flat out bans with no allowance even for civil unions) were actually arguing that including the civil union language would be the imposition of a separate-but-equal system!!! Other supporters argued that the "compromise" bill was a poison pill. It conflates two separate things they argue (probably correctly). It asks the voters to first define marraige as only between a man and a woman, and at the same time asks them to provide civil unions for same-sex couples. Part of their argument is that people who only want to vote on marriage (and would probably be against any benefits for same-sex couples--which seemed to be the sentiment of almost all the opponents of same-sex marriage in attendance) would be forced to vote on providing same-sex couples with benefits. Because of this, it would be likely the amendment would fail in the popular vote. Thus, we'd be left with civil marriage for same sex couples anyway. There's an elegance to this argument; it's probably right. The "Traditional Marriage" advocates are as vehemently opposed to civil unions as they are civil same-sex marriage. Accepting an amendment that enshrines such rights in the constitution is unacceptable to them, and they may be likely to vote against it when (if) it goes to the ballot. Conversely, advocates of same-sex marriages are likely to view this enshrinement as place a separate but equal institution in the constitution--equally unacceptable.

But, back to the debates themselves. Allies of us gay folks started to do some odd things. The Rep from Springfield (can't remember his name) discussed his experience of living in the Jim Crow South and experiences of separate but equal. He discussed marching with Dr. King. He then said that although he hated the language, he was going to vote for the "compromise" amendment because he thought it was the best we could do.

When it came to the vote, the oddness continued. The "compromise" amendment won a majority of votes from Senators. Even our supporters like Diane Wilkerson and (gasp) Jarrett Barrios(!!!!) voted for the substitute amendment--to replace the Barrios langague with the Travaglini/Lees language. Among House members, the substitution was fairly strongly defeated. Our supporters like Marie St. Fleur and my own rep voted against the substitution. In the final tally, the "compromise" was defeated 104-96 (I think that was the final margin).

The con-con was recessed until noon Thursday.

So, here's where we stand right now. The Travis amendment is still the primary amendment on the calendar. The Barrios amendment (replacing Travis) is the amendment under consideration when the con-con resumes.

Who the hell knows what's going to happen now. My experience in legislative work, indeed in any form of queer work, says we're going to lose. I still think that some kind of amendment restricting marriage to only opposite-sex couples will pass. I just have absolutely no idea what it will look like.

I'm also fairly confident, though, that when (if) this amendment goes to the citizens of MA, they will reject it. The polling data I've seen so far has shown support for same-sex marriage itself as slightly ahead of not allowing it. Opposition to amending the Constitution is at around 60%. I think that in two years, these will grow in our favor--especially when people have the experience of living in a state where same-sex couples get married without the sky collapsing on us. It will take ongoing organizing and work, though. This is definitely about more than just these few days at the State House.

A personal note: Thanks to those of you I've spoken with who've taken action and/or expressed support. I'm actually surprised by my own emotional intensity on this issue. I've always had a somewhat ambivalent intellectual take on marriage as an institution. What I'm also dealing with, though, are my own hopes (which I also sometimes think are delusions). I hold out hope that I may find someone someday. If we choose to get married, if we need the material/legal benefits that accompany it, I'd like to have those options. It's also bringing up major issues around feeling attacked. Standing at the State House today with people who literally hate me was an experience I usually try to avoid. It was quite an intense emotional experience. The support we've (me and queer communities) have received from y'all have really meant a lot. I probably can't express how much, but it really does help to alleviate some of the pain that comes from dealing with these other folks. I'm very grateful to you all.

I'll be back at the State House tomorrow and will provide further updates.

e-mail 2 (Thursday, February 12, 2004):

The Constitution is Safe--for at least a month

Hi all,

I just got home from the State House and wanted to drop a note about today's goings on. It's going to be brief, as I spent 13 hours chanting, singing and watching the General Court. I'm sleepy.

The biggest news is that the ConCon is now in recess until Thursday, March 11. No amendment has been voted out of the ConCon to amend the Constitution--yet. When the General Court went into recess at midnight, the amendment being debated was yet another "compromise"--this one offered by the leadership of both houses--that would enshrine civil marriage as exclusively heterosexual and create civil unions. This is the same effect as the earlier Travaglini amendment, but with different language.

The night ended with opponents of any amendment running out the clock. I dunno if any of you watch West Wing, but it was incredibly reminiscent of the episode where a Senator from Minnesota is fillibustering a bill. At the end, another Senator (who is on his side) comes in to ask him if he'll yield, and then carries on the fillibuster for him. That's exactly what happened in the last hour and a half tonight. Finneran got outmaneuvered!!!! It was really beautiful, and quite entertaining, to watch.

For the last hour and a half (with a fifteen minute recess--my god, there were a ton of recesses today) opponents of the amendment got up to speak, beginning with Brian Joyce. Speakers would interrupt, asking the person at the podium to yield, and the only speakers that would be yielded to were those among a group that seemed to be organized to carry this strategy out. They would then take the podium, speak for several minutes, and then yield to another ally. If other people would ask the speaker to yield, s/he simply refused. The floor was never "open" for any kind of amendment or other procedural method of breaking the string.

Believe me, supporters of an amendment tried to break that string. During Joyce's time, someone tried to "call the question" (force a vote for folks who aren't familiar with parliamentary language). Traviglini refused to let them. There were a few other challenges to his ruling, all of which he shot down. (It really seemed like he was in on the group fillibuster, trying to run out the clock on an amendment that carried his name as a sponsor!) At one point, a member supporting the amendment got up and said to the speaker (I'm paraphrasing), "Since 10:30 you've only had opponents of the amendment speaking. Are you ever going to let supporters speak?" Travaglini responded, "I don't think that's true. Plus, I don't know who supports or opposes when the ask to get on the list. Also, the speakers who have taken the floor have done so because other speakers have yielded to them." the questioner asked, "Can you tell us who is on the list for upcoming debate?" Travaglini: "No."

At times, this maneuvering became almost farcical. When the representative from Framingham asked Alice Wolf from Cambridge to yield, her right to ask was challenged by another person because she wasn't sitting in the her seat. A Senator raised a point of order by asking where his assigned seat would be since there were only a bunch of chairs moved into the chamber for Senators to use--they had no desks. The House members sat at their usual desks. Traviglini responded, "There are no assigned seats." Like I said, things were entertaining.

I'll fill in more of the stuff from actual debate tomorrow. Right now, though, a few thoughts on the activity outside the House Chamber.

The crowds were much different today. First, there were not nearly as many people. Second, the people who were there were overwhelmingly people who supported the rights of same-sex couples to marry. I don't think I saw a group of same-sex marriage opponents larger than 5 people all day. There are a couple of reasons for this, I think. First, I don't think marriage opponents anticipated the ConCon going longer than a day. They hadn't organized in preparation for this. Second, a lot of the people they had at the State House yesterday were actually from out of state. They didn't stay here. Third, I think that, although they feel strongly about the issue, it doesn't have the same kind of resonance for them that it does for us gay folks. We're out there fighting for our rights, to defend something the Supreme Judicial Court says we already have. That's motivating a hell of a lot of people. The crowds actually grew as the day went on--once people got off work, they came to the State House. At it's peak, I'd say we probably had around 500 people (rough guess) there today.

There were two major areas of action. First, right outside the House Chamber. Whenever there was a recess, this area would fill up. People were singing (please, god, I don't ever want to hear "America the Beautiful" again!) and chanting whenever members of the General Court were present. I took part in a good amount of it myself.

While debate was occurring, there was generally a core group of around 50 that stayed outside the chamber, singing and chanting. Most of the other people retired to the Great Hall to watch on television. The gallery was also full. Whenever there was break in the action--out of the Great Hall and to the hall outside the Chamber we went.

Ok, I think that's enough for now. Sleep time! (I haven't had nearly enough this week).

thank you so much for your support on this issue. Two things in closing:

1) The fight isn't over. The ConCon will resume on March 11. It probably isn't a bad idea to contact your legislators again before them in order to reiterate your position on this issue.
2) Thank your legislators! Many of them will receive a lot of crap for this. They also need to know that people are grateful for and happy about what they did. It will make it easier for them to support us in the future.

Thank you!!!!

e-mail 3 (Friday, February 13, 2004):

Update #2 from Day 2 at the ConCon

As promised, here's another report about the goings on yesterday. Although I took some notes, they're muddled, and my brain is mush from being there 13 hours and only getting 4 1/2 hours of sleep. I'm gonna try and be both brief and complete. Forgive me for missing either mark.

I arrived at the State House some time between 11:15 and 11:30. At that point, there were almost no protesters on the street, though that changed throughout the day. I'm not sure of numbers, but there was a fairly constant presence of chanters on Beacon Street.

Upon arrival, went directly to the hall outside the House Chamber, where people were gathering. Organizers from MassEquality were there and ready--handing out signs to people, leading chants and singing, moving people to areas they could be seen by legislators as they entered the Chamber. That was a major focus--making sure legislators knew we were there, creating a presence. They also made sure people had signs (many just photocopies) to hold up for legislators and for the media (which had a MUCH smaller presence than on Wednesday; I guess their short attention span couldn't recognize drama going longer than one day.). I got a sign that read "Civil Unions are Separate and Unequal." It's now hanging on my office door at BC.

American values were a central theme to the rallying. This was especially evident in the songs that were sung: "Got Bless America", "America the Beautiful", "The Star Spangled Banner". I wanted to sing "Ain't Gonna Let Injustice Turn Me 'Round," but I don't think very many people would have known it. Chants centered on equality, freedom, and rights. All of this was quintessentially American--the point was trying to tie our struggle to central values of the nation--this was also reflected in floor speeches.

When the ConCon convened, an amendment to replace the Barrios language was immediately introduced (a brief refresher: The main amendment is Travis I. This would simply ban same-sex marriage. The language in it could also ban any rights being granted to same-sex couples in the future. The Barrios language is an amendment to replace Travis I with an amendment that says marriage shall be between two people.). This amendment--Travis II-- would have kept most of the language from Travis I, but included a section that said (I'm paraphrasing here--as I pretty much will be through all of this) "Nothing in this section shall be construed to require or prohibit civil unions."

(Honestly, this language is meaningless--though no one brought it up in debate. "Civil unions" as a phrase has absolutely no meaning in Massachusetts law at this time. Civil unions are a specific legal relationship that exist only in the state of Vermont. No other state has them, nor does any state recognize them.)

That's when debate got interesting. Represenative Shaun Kelly (a Republican from Western MA--this debate is really making the difference between New England Republicans and the ones I'm used to in Minnesota very clear. MA doesn't seem to have the firebreathing fundamentalist R's. Those folks here tend to be orthodox Catholics and Democrats (rep Perente--get that woman some meds!--comes to mind).) gave an incredibly moving speech. He came up to the podium and started with, "This is for you Liz" referring to Representative Liz Malia from Jamaica Plain (a part of Boston for those of you not in this area). Malia is a lesbian, and Kelly went on to describe how the debate was really about whether the body was going to enshrine her as less than equal in the Constitution. He argued that they were debating over whether or not she would be 8/10, or 9/10 of a citizen. His emotions were quite clearly close to the surface. As he proceeded he started to talk about, having voted twice yesterday and failing to vote anything forward it was obvious no consensus would be reached. I turned to someone next to me and said, "He's going to move for adjournment." A couple minutes later, he did exactly that. A very dramatic moment. However, the motion failed by something like a 100 vote margin.

All of the speakers have been mentioning how difficult a vote this is. Coming from some of them--like Travis and Finneran--I don't believe it for a second. David Lynn, from Bridgewater, though, was obviously having a difficult time. He got a little choked up as he told the body he lost a member of his family over his vote. However, he was going to continue to vote to ban same-sex marriage. He did personify some of the difficulty of the issue.

Jarrett Barrios spoke shortly thereafter. Barrios is a gay man from Cambridge who's been in the House and is now a member of the Senate. He, too, gave a moving testimonial. In his speech, he told the body about his recent experience as a new father (he and his partner recently adopted two boys). His youngest son recently became ill--a fever of 104.5 degrees! While trying to get in to see a doctor, he ran into troubles with the hospital--his partner was listed as the parent, no he. He had to argue with and convince the nurse that he was also the child's father, illustrating the difficulties same-sex couples face because they can't marry. He broke down during the speech a couple times. Truly a moving and painful moment.

Byron Rushing came shortly thereafter and tore down the House. This guy's a speaker! He brought in the history of Massachusetts--both it's good (not allowing slavery) and it's bad (the Know Nothings). His was a question of what side of history do we want to be on--extending freedom or restricting it. He also took the Black Ministerial Alliance to task for "forgetting their history." In a dramatic moment, he told the BMA, "Shame On You!" After he finished speaking, members of the body (and gallery) gave him a standing ovation--this isn't standard operating procedure in a ConCon. He was that good.

A few more speakers and the Rep. Parente of Milford. Oy, a continuation of the previous day's rambling stream of consciousness. This woman is quite clearly off her rocker. She did get applause from those of us in the Great Hall for one line, though--this is her last session. During her rambling, someone called both points of parliamentary inquiry (to try and get her on topic) and a quorum (to break her "rhythm"). Didn't stop her. She came back after the quorum call and went off for 10 more minutes.

There were multiple recesses and quorum calls throughout this--much more sitting around waiting Thursday than Wednesday. During each one, we'd empty the Great Hall, head upstairs, and start singing/chanting while the legislators were coming in and out of the hall.

The first speaker after a recess that encompassed the dinner hour was Representative Walsh of Lynn. This was the first speech of his legislative career, and it was a doozy. He invoked growing up in the Catholic Church with a priest who marched with Dr. King and protested against the Vietnam War. Mentioning this priest he said that he couldn't imagine doing anything other than voting against any amendment to restrict the rights of gay citizens because of the example the parish priest set.

Immediately after his speech, the question was called on the Travis II amendment. It was defeated 94-103.

Next, Brian Lees, Senate Minority Leader, introduced another "compromise" amendment to replace the Barrios language. This one restricted marriage to opposite sex couples but put civil unions into the constitution. It has a very similar effect to an amendment from yesterday, but different wording. The amendment was sponsored by Finneran, Travaglini, Lees and the chairs of the Ways and Means committees of both bodies. An hour-long recess was immediately called.

After the recess, Liz Malia spoke. She referred to Kelly's speech from the morning and talked about the ways this would affect her and her partner. Again, moving personal testimony. A couple more speakers, another recess. At about 10:15 or 10:30 the fillibuster I described last night started.

There was one other speech that was quite exceptional. Rep. Rachel Kaprielian of Watertown talked about her mixed heritage. Her paternal family was from Armenia and experience oppression first hand. Her maternal family was from Jim Crow Georgia--on the white side. Referring back to Diane Wilkerson's speech from Wednesday, she pointed to the differences between their families and discussed how she couldn't do to others what had happened to Wilkerson's family. Nor could she accept the privileged status that her maternal family experienced at the expense of Wilkerson's.

Those were, I think, the more exceptional moments. At the conlcusion of the session, back up to the lobby outside the Chamber we went. Time for more singing. More than that, though, as supporters of ours left the chamber, we greeted them with cheers and thank you's. Byron Rushing (explosion of applause and cheering), Jarret Barrios, Diane Wilkerson, Alice Wolf, Marie St. Fleur, Liz Malia, Cynthia Stone Cream and others I didn't recognize or have names for. It was an exceptional moment. They yelled and mouthed "Thank you" back at us. Indeed, Kathleen Teahan came over to our side of the lobby and walked through the crowd thanking us as we also thanked her. Finally, one of the organizers came and told us to go home. He referenced a capitol security guard who had been where we were changing/singing all day. He got a huge round of applause, and even seemed moved and thanked us for it.

I want to continue that tradition here and thank all of you for your support. I've been surprising myself by with how emotional this has all been for me. I know part of it is exhaustion, but I broke down crying a couple times while writing this (and even in the shower this morning). I haven't been in a political situtation this intense in years. The support you've all expressed has been tremendously valuable to me (and to others in my community, I'm sure). Experiencing some of the outright hate and hostility I've come across at the State House (the exception not the rule, to be sure) has been traumatic--Your support helps to ameliorate some of the pain.

Thanks again. And, this fight is just beginning. The ConCon is back in session Thursday, March 11. As I understand it, the second "compromise" amendment will still be on the floor at that time. With all your permission, I'll keep up with the updates.


previous Boston IMC coverage of the struggle for gay marriage in Massachusetts:
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The Milford Reprsentative Against EQUALITY is...
15 Feb 2004
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