At the Massachusetts State House

“Join Us at the State House January 2,” said the announcement from the Religious Coalition for the Freedom To Marry, or RCFM.

Join us for an ALL DAY RALLY at the State House in Boston as we ask legislators to stop the discriminatory ballot initiative. Tuesday, January 2, 2007. All day, beginning at 7:30 AM. We welcome supporters to come whenever you can — before work, lunchtime, after work or school. Bring signs and banners, especially ones that show your faith. Show legislators, the media, and our opponents that People of Faith Support Marriage Equality.

I had a staff meeting and one phone appointment this morning, and then I drove right up to the Riverside T station, and took the trolley into Boston. By quarter of one, I was standing on Beacon Street across from the State House, looking at the people on the other side of the street who had rallied to oppose same sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Standing on Beacon Street

The woman standing next to me was taking a long lunch hour to stand in public witness of her support for same sex marriage. Someone had left a hand-lettered sign leaning on the fence behind me. “Do you mind if I get that sign?” she said. I got out of the way. She picked it up and looked at it critically. She read the sign out loud: ” ‘Another Ally for Same Sex Marriage!’ Had to make sure I agree with it before I hold it up,” she added. “And that’s me, another straight woman for same sex marriage.”

Bob S. and Jean K. from my church arrived at about one. “You didn’t wait for us,” said Jean. I had misunderstood the telephone message she had left at the church, thinking I was supposed to drive up as soon as I could and not wait for them. Bob found another hand-made sign to carry: “Jesus Loves Equality.” Across the street from us, two people held up a twenty-foot long bright orange banner that read, “JESUS IS LORD” — representing a slight difference in theology. A woman standing on the other side of Bob looked at the big bright professionally-done orange banner, and said, “Yeah, but if you ask W-W-J-D, what would Jesus do….”

“He’d’ve performed same sex marriages,” I said, finishing her sentence when she trailed off. “I didn’t want to say that, because I’m Jewish,” she said. “Well, I’m a minister,” I said, “so I can say it. Although Jesus didn’t actually perform marriages, as far as we know,” I continued thoughtfully to myself, but no one was listening to me.

More than half the signs on the other side of the street were identical white-on-green signs saying “Let The People Vote.” On our side of the street, we all noticed that most of their signs were professionally printed, while most of ours were hand-made. Compared to us, they looked like well-organized shock troops against same sex marriage. I decided we looked more like a grassroots movement — but I was biased in our favor.

The Constitutional Convention was supposed to convene at 2:00 p.m. Jean, and then Bob, went in to the State House to watch the proceedings. I have little tolerance for political maneuvering, and said I would stay outside. But the wind began to feel colder and colder. Then a voice said, “Is that Dan Harper?” Standing right in front of me were the father and stepmother of Jim, my brother-in-law. “We’re going in to the State House,” they said, and I decided I was cold enough to tolerate the political maneuvering.

In the bowels of the State House

Of course, we didn’t get in to the actual room where the legislators were deliberating. We got to watch it on a projection screen, supporters of same-sex marriage on one side of the room, the other folks on the other side of the room, the middle occasionally patrolled by a state cop or a park ranger. I felt as if I were back in high school — the bland institutional space, the somewhat rickety old projection screen, the authority figures. But there was Dwight from Fairhaven, and Andy and Bev from the New Bedford area, and one of the ministers from the Tri-Con UCC church in my old hometown, and a few other people I recognized.

At two o’clock, the Constitutional Convention convened, and they voted on the measure to place an anti-gay constitutional amendment on a state-wide ballot. If 25% of the legislators voted in favor, then the ballot proposal would move forward to next year’s Constitutional Convention for another vote; if 25% of the legislators voted in favor the second time around, then the measure would go on the ballot. Which would mean (I’ll bet my boots) that huge amounts of money would pour into the state to support that anti-gay amendment, and even though polls show that the majority of Massachusetts voters support same sex marriage all that money could sway people. That’s why we don’t want a vote on civil rights.

The vote was taken. More than 25% of the legislators voted to place the measure on the ballot — 61 out of 200.


The legislators voted for a one-hour recess. I went out and got some lunch, and then went back to stand with the same sex marriage supporters across from the State House. Someone from the Mass Equality office came over and told us that the legislators had voted to reconsider the first vote. By now, the sun was getting low and there weren’t many people on either side of Beacon Street.

A young woman wearing a RCFM sticker showed up on a bike. She was a high school Latin teacher, and she biked down to the State House as soon as classes had ended. Two other woman showed up, all of us churchgoers, and we talked about our respective churches. One woman belonged to Trinity Church in Copley Square, Boston (“Yes, our building does take up a lot of our time,” she told me); one woman belonged to Old South Church across from the Boston Public Library, and the Latin teacher belonged to Hope Church. “The UCC church in J.P.?” I said. “Yes,” she said. “That’s supposed to be a really cool church,” I said. “It is,” she said. We agreed that a cool church has to be multi-generational, multi-racial, and totally hip.

We all noticed that the people on the other side of the street were, on average, much older than the people on our side of the street. You saw more hip clothes on our side of the street, too. But then, I’m biased.

The ending

The people on the other side of the street erupted in cheers. Someone from the Mass Equality office came over and told us that the legislators had voted to allow the anti-gay amendment to move forward to next year. We all filed over to the lawn on the east side of the State House for a closing rally. As we walked past those other folks, I swore I heard them singing “Cumbayah” (so un-hip).

We gathered in the darkness. Someone from Mass Equality told us that we have made progress — the vote to move the amendment forward was lots closer than anyone had thought it would be — Deval Patrick, our governor-elect, had been calling legislators all day, and yesterday too, trying to shut this amendment down — and seven of the most virulently anti-gay state legislators had gotten voted out of office back in November. “The new legislature will be a whole new ball game,” said the man from Mass Equality. Then the executive director of Mass Equality told us that now we have to roll up our sleeves and get to work — we don’t have much time to work to defeat this next vote — “As soon as you get home, start calling your friends and neighbors and getting people mobilized,” he told us.

The beginning

Consider yourself mobilized. If you’re a Massachusetts resident, contact your state legislator tonight (find your legislator here, and then click on their name to get contact info for them). If you’re a U.S. resident but not a Massachusetts state resident, consider making a donation to Mass Equality [link] — because if same sex marriage gets outlawed in Massachusetts, you know it will be a very long time before you get same sex marriage in your state.

More coverage on this issue:

Bay Windows posted a minute-by-minute account of the Constitutional Convention, and has posted which legislators voted for and against the anti-gay amendment (“N” or no votes are on our side) — Link.

The Boston Globe Web site,, has posted a very short article — Link. (In the photo showing supporters of same-sex marriage supporters, I must be just out of the picture — I was standing a couple of people away from the guy with the flag and the guy on the right.)

2 thoughts on “At the Massachusetts State House

  1. Ed S

    Why keep pushing this as a “same sex mariage?” “Marriage” has always been the provinence of religions. The state offers a contract and that contract can be confered by a minister or a judicial person. Who cares if this contract is offered to two consenting adults of any sex or even to a pair of brothers or sisters? What the state does is provide a contract with some special privilideges. Churches offer “marriages.” Also people who are together form the same bond as a church hopes their “marriages” will create.

    If the “marriage” and state contract are the same, why do some churches not allow the disoloution of their “marriage?” The state will. This is why the argument should be for civil unions for everyone and let churches “marry” people. I was not “married” in a church but for the past 42 years I feel very “married.”

  2. Administrator

    Ed S — You write: “This is why the argument should be for civil unions for everyone and let churches “marry” people.”

    I agree with you. Personally, I would like to see a separation of the religious ceremony from the civil contract. If that were the case, clergypersons could perform religious ceremonies for couples (or not) as their religious tradition dictated, but such religious ceremonies would have no legal standing. A civil union, probably performed by a judge or justice of the peace (or other civic official), would then confer any legal benefits.

    However, while this would be my preference, I do not believe it is politically feasible to effect such a separation. Can you imagine what would happen if we proposed legislation that decreed that only the government had the power to grant civil unions, and that marriages would only confer religious privileges? Protestant and Catholic church hierarchies, Jewish groups, individual clergypeople, and assorted masses of religious people from many different traditions would be up in arms. I’m afraid we’re stuck with the current, less-than-satisfactory system of clergypersons having the legal privilege of sanctioning religious marriages that carry substantial legal benefits.

    You also write:

    “Why keep pushing this as a “same sex mariage?” ”

    For the simple reason that in today’s political landscape, from a legal standpoint civil unions are significantly different than marriages. There are many legal advantages granted by the federal government to marriages, that are not necessarily granted to civil unions. Even if a state government says that it is granting full and equal rights to civil unions (New Jersey seems to be headed in this direction), a partner in a civil union may not (for example) be able to collect Social Security benefits for a deceased partner. (Note that even though you yourself weren’t married in a church, from the point of view of the federal government, you are legally married and you have access to federal benefits that a state civil union would not grant.) In short, the current legal system does indeed discriminate between marriage, even a marriage conducted by a justice of the peace, and a civil union.

    Since we’re stuck with the current system, which mixes religious marriage and civil union in some uncomfortable ways, where does that leave us? Well, if same sex marriage is outlawed in Massachusetts, it leaves ministers like me who are willing to officiate at same-sex religious weddings in the odd position that we can do exactly the same ceremony for two separate couples (one same-sex couple, one mixed-sex couple), and one of those ceremonies confers legal benefits while the other one doesn’t.

    My feeling is that if the government is going to put me in the business of conducting legally-recognized weddings, it shouldn’t also tell me which couples I can legally marry and which I can’t — the government can’t have it both ways, it either has to take away my right to officiate at legally-recognized weddings, or it has to grant me the right to officiate at legally-recognized same-sex weddings. Since government refuses to do the first, I believe it should grant me the right to officiate at legally-recognized same-sex weddings.

    Now here’s another question. You write: “The state offers a contract and that contract can be confered by a minister or a judicial person.” But why should it be confered by a minister or other clergyperson? What about separation of church and state? What’s you stand on that question?

    Hope all this makes sense. And thanks for raising these questions.

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