The cake was sweet, but the victory was sweeter. For the hundreds of people, myself included, who gathered in the Cambridge, Massachusetts YMCA tonight, the meaning of the event went well beyond that of a typical book launch. The wedding cake should have been the first hint. There was acclaim for the superlative new book, Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages (which I reviewed last week), but there was also a celebration—and a call to action—for the entire marriage movement in Massachusetts.
Three years ago this evening, same-sex couples lined up outside City Hall in Cambridge for the marriage licenses the city would issue to them starting at 12:01 a.m. on May 17, the first in the state. The weather was as cold and bitter as today was windy and rainy, but as one couple quoted in the book said, “If people can do this for Red Sox tickets, we certainly can do this for our lives.”
Patricia Gozemba, Karen Kahn, and Marilyn Humphries’ clearly timed their book launch to match this date. It was not a selfish act of marketing, but rather part of a coordinated effort with the ACLU of Massachusetts, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), MassEquality, the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry (RCFM), and other groups to kick off two days of celebration, rallies, and lobbying. For as several of the speakers tonight reminded us, we have not yet written the final chapter about the fight for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
The authors and photographer each spoke at the event tonight, but it is no slight to them to say they were overshadowed by some of the heroes they documented in their book. Mary Bonauto, lead counsel in the historic case that won same-sex marriage rights, spoke foremost about the seven plaintiff couples. “They have always been the heart and soul of what became the Goodridge case,” she said. They put “a human face” on the matter. Looking ahead, she spoke of the need for allies and outreach:
No minority can ever succeed without the support of the majority. . . . In the end we have to listen to the concerns of the people who are not there yet. We have to address those concerns. The rest of the country is going to catch up to Massachusetts as long as there is the same sense of engagement.
She sees positive signs in the same-sex marriage case now before the Connecticut Supreme Court. Listening to the arguments this week, she reported, “I did not hear one ounce of the ‘ick’ factor from one of these judges”—no prurient questions of whether same-sex marriage would lead to people marrying their siblings, or other such nonsense.
As out State Senator Jarrett Barrios reminded us, however, the Massachusetts battle itself is not yet won. “I wish this were a coda, but this is really just an intermission,” he said, speaking of the upcoming Constitutional Convention on June 14. Legislators will then vote on whether to include a question about a same-sex marriage ban on the November ballot. Should voters then approve the ban, it will become enshrined in the state constitution. We will win, Barrios believes, but not if we just sit down and enjoy Courting Equality as a beautiful book. “It is a call to action. . . . Celebrate tonight, but rededicate ourselves tomorrow.”
State Representative Byron Rushing gave the rousing final speech of the night. “You are some of the most radical people in the world,” he proclaimed to us. “You and I are radical because we believe that everybody—everybody—has human rights.” The power of fundamental ideals of democracy, concepts like “We the People,” he continued, “is not in the telling of the idea, but in the hearing of that idea, and saying, ‘That applies to me, too.” The heroes of the black and women’s civil rights movements, he explained, as well as those of the Massachusetts marriage movement, were driven by a deep belief that “We the People,” and all the rights that implies, included them.
Our struggle now, Rushing averred, is to make same-sex marriage permanent. Although 140 out of 200 state legislators support it, he said, Massachusetts’ peculiar way of amending its constitution means the amendment to ban it is dangerously close to going before the voters. (See the MassEquality Background page for more details.)
As Senator Barrios said in his speech, “It is wrong to put civil rights on the ballot.” I agree. The challenge for the LGBT community and our allies over the next four weeks will be to make legislators understand that. It will be a close call. The Goodridge lawsuit was filed back in April of 2001, and we are all tired. Massachusetts is known for its marathons, though. I think we can see this one to the finish.