Friday, May 18, 2007

Winning the Backyard Fight

Inspiration came in many sizes and styles at the Courting Equality release party/rally. Likely the awful, shameful effort to strip existing civil rights from homosexuals here will resolve for good or evil in June, perhaps as early as the 14th.

Speakers at the event on Wednesday at the Cambridge YMCA figuratively pointed across the street to the city hall. There three years ago to the day, the city of peace opened at one minute after midnight to issue the first several hundred marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the first in the nation.

Since then, the joy has turned to trepidation. On one hand, we have had three years of SSM, three years in which, as Sen. Byron Rushing puts it the sun continued to rise and the milk didn't curdle. The nothing-but-positive effects of SSM is a major factor in polls showing voter support for keeping it 60% and as high as 70%.

Yet politicians can lag polls. Even so, our General Court is at 70% or more wanting to stop this amendment. That is not enough. Our peculiar ballot initiative law lets a 25% of the combined legislature in Constitutional Convention advance a citizen initiative to the ballot.

That made sense in its original purpose of trying to reverse a bad law that the legislature implemented, but not in a case where a group wants to overturn a court decision and take away another group's civil rights. For certain, we need to refine the existing procedure to return it to its intent, but we have an infinitely more pressing need.

As Sen. Jarrett Barrios told the crowd in Cambridge, "We have one final effort. We have a few more votes
We have to push across the finish line."

He and Rushing made it plain that the next four weeks are huge for Massachusetts and the nation. This will take personal lobbying as well as supporting the prime groups — including MassEquality, GLAD, and the local ACLU — starting with going to their websites and finding your tasks.

The promise is there and only a few voted out of reach, even with the low bar for the anti-marriage-equality people. As GLAD's attorney who successfully argued Goodridge, Mary Bonauto, told the crowd, "The rest of the country is going to catch up with Massachusetts, as long as there is the same sense of engagement," noting that here we have large elements of the majority in favor. In the past 10 years, 20% of the states have SS marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Yet, as Barrios added, before going national, "we gotta start with Massachusetts. Until we kill this thing once and for all, we have to continue this fight in our backyard."

Rep. Alice Wolf started with an upbeat message too. She traced related issues in Cambridge and the state house since 1974. She said that by 2004, there were 70 house members and 30 senators voting for marriage equality. By this past January's ConCon, that had become 102 representative and 32 senators. "It was a very short time to have made enormous, enormous gains."

Yet the orator and plain speaker of the evening, as usual, was Rushing.

He was not above first flattering the audience, telling them, "You are some of the most radical people in the world. You and I are trying to make sure this experiment of democracy works."

He compared this fight to make SSM permanent here to such previous struggles as civil rights for African Americans and for women. It is important to speak the radical idea, and more important for those oppressed or threatened to hear it and identify with the possibilities. "The radical idea is that every person has human rights."

People need to realize that "We are in those words. We will be free."

He said none of us should be surprised by those who nevertheless oppose marriage equality. The reaction should be to do everything to make the final push to defeat the amendment.

"We do know what fantastic responsibility this places on us," said Rushing. "Our struggle now is to make this permanent, not for ourselves but for everyone."

He predicted a victory, if everyone acts now. "The only response we can have is to do more."

The goal is to have the supermajority the law requires. "When we win, we will have won with 75% of the vote plus one," he said of the June 14th ConCon.

I have no doubt that if that happens, the anti-SSM folk will not accept defeat. Rather they'll yell, turn to the courts yet another time, and maybe even mount another certainly doomed initiative. It will be too late. They can hate, they can discriminate, but in the privacy of their parlors, leaving the rest of the world alone.

The reward Rushing promises those who call, write, visit, lobby and donate time and energy would be sweet and a point of pride to last a lifetime. "We in Massachusetts will be able to say in this state we have 75% plus one."

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Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you! Thank you for slogging out there, and for posting so thoroughly about it.

I was scheduled to attend, but the little ones were ill. I'm really sorry I missed it.

Anonymous said...

You captured the emphasis of the political message at the May 16th launch of Courting Equality. Thank you. Let's keep underscoring that the opposition wants to strip away LGBT people's civil rights at the ballot box in November 2008.We have got to stop the ballot initiative.