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Posted by aaron at 03:01PM, Wednesday, December 06th, 2006

Flag Day Phew: Marriage Survives a Vote

On Thursday June 14th, the 40th anniversary week of Loving v Virginia, legislators in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention voted (surprisingly) not to put a measure on the ballot that would have allowed straight people to vote to change the Constitution to make marriage discrimination against gays and lesbians legal. (Got that all?) I tried to visit my Representative, and saw a bit of a circus.

Sadly, I only had my cell phone with me, so I have no great pictures.

Arriving at Park Street Station, I walked out of the T and towards the State House. There were some police officers directing traffic, and some large throngs of people. There were a lot of demonstrators on the park side of the street whose presence made it difficult to approach the State House. They turned out to be for (or at least wearing stickers for) the amusingly-named VoteOnMarriage.org. I threaded through them, and crossed the street, where I milled around for a while amongst the MassEquality folks and pro-marriage demonstrators, who far outnumbered their (our?) counterparts.

This was shortly after noon, so legislators were starting to head into the building for the One O'clock vote. This was a well organized crew: cheerleaders (not with the pom poms and skirts, but... well, they *were* leading the cheers) with bullhorns asked the crowd to show our support as various pro-equality legislators walked into the state house. I'm sure legislators who are supporting what is, sadly, a pretty niche bloc (none of the straight friends I talked to seemed to know what was going on this week) like to know they're appreciated.

I started to notice a few things. First, the VoteOnMarriage anti-equality folks were much better at organizing chants and so forth. Their rallying cry was something about letting people vote. Second, the crowd wearing MassEquality stickers was much... well, happier-seeming and supportive, and I think that's generally a good thing for a movement. Who wants to identify with a bunch of sad-looking tongue-clucking scolders who carry around Holy Bibles just so they can quote from badly-translated bits of the Old Testament, while showing no evidence of having read the Gospels? Third, the general age-disparity between the two main crowds of demonstrators was a little surprising. Fourth: yes, car-drivers do conform to stereotypes: the guy in the enormous SUV with the yellow ribbon sticker on the back was shouting unkind things to the pro-equality crowd, while the one in the Volvo wagon was beeping and giving thumbs ups. And fifth... omg, those signs.

How can I put this dellicately? Kitty-corner from the big VoteOnMarriage crowd was a small group of young men carrying some indelicate signs. Big road-sign-style triangles with graphic red icons of two figures attached slightly below the waist, one from behind the other, with a big slash superimposed. The image was certainly attention-getting, if childish. The apparition of the signs, combined with their carriers, was a bit more surreal: as one of my companions in the crowd said, "You can tell those guys have some issues." His point was that they seemed a bit fey to be on that side of the street.

A similar shocker happened while I was on my way into the State House to try to visit my rep. There was a sweet-looking older lesbian couple (with a slight age disparity -- what's the lesbian version of a bear/cub relationship?) ahead of me in the line to go through security. Bored, I was contemplating making small talk about whether they were married, etc., when one of them turned and I saw her VoteOnMarriage sticker. Eek! The gays are turning... um... to fundamentalism? Oh, wait, they're probably in the closet. I swear, these were amongst the gayest-looking women I saw there, and my sappho-dar can't be *that* far off; these ladies were as straight as the letter S. No offense, but a fair bit of cognitive dissonance for all concerned.

I eventually got through the line, and found the office of my Representative. He was, not surprisingly, not there, but I politely told his assistant my feelings on the vote, left my name and address, and threaded my way back out.

It was an eerie feeling. It was close to 1PM by now, and I think most people on both sides expected the vote to pass by a few heads (i.e., there to be a ballot question next year, allowing straight people to vote on whether to change the Consistution of the Commonwealth to allow discrimination.) The ballot needed 50 supporters. I chatted briefly with another man who was there to visit his representative -- he was a newly-arrived transplant from the South. He too seemed to feel dispirited about the prospects for equality surviving the legislature's vote. He had engaged in a fruitless discussion with a VoteOnMarriage person (this guy apparently, ironically, African-American), trying to figure out why it mattered to straights whether or not gay people could marry. He described no satisfactory answer as being forthcoming -- just lots of "I'm not a bigot, but..."s and "I just think the people should vote"s, and no answer to the question of whether "the people" should have voted on Loving v Virginia, or Brown v Board of Education, or similarly unpopular-at-the-time but now-lauded-as-landmark court decisions. My mother, too, often talks about how boggling it is to her that people oppose marriage equality. I guess I don't really care that much any more, and, as for my curiousity, well, I've seen lots of butch-looking women who hate the gay, and far too many self-loathing girly men, to be too puzzled thse days. I should think the events of 2006 -- the Republican congressional page scandal, the prominent Evangelical, Ted Haggard, getting caught with a gigolo -- would have made the connection between bigotry and self-loathing clear to anyone.

I left the State House shortly after 1, down and puzzled. I'm now sad I didn't stick around for another ten minutes -- the vote went quickly, with a pleasingly surprising result.

I offer my sincere thanks to MassEquality.org -- that organization did a lot of work to connect allies of equality with their Representatives and Senators. Anyone who thinks civil rights are good owes them a great debt for all their work on making marriage available to people in love, rather than just people with the "right" anatomical parts. We can also thank Governor Deval Patrick and Speaker DiMasi for their leadership.
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