Summer 2004, Vol. 7, No. 2

Table of Contents
Summer 2004

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From the Editor:
Shocked, Shocked

Kerry Eucharistes

Tying the Knot in the Bay State

Black Pastors Bridle at Gay Marriage

A Thorn in the Mainline's Side

Still Under God

Kabbalah for Dummies

Breaking Boston's Heart


Tying the Knot in the Bay State
by David W. Machacek

As May 17 came and went, calm settled in the eye of the storm over same-sex marriage. “Here in Massachusetts,” wrote Elizabeth Mehren of the Los Angeles Times, “marriage for gays and lesbians seemed to become normal as fast as it became legal.”

In the run-up to what Marie Szaniszlo of the Boston Herald called “Marry-thon Monday,” journalists began reporting that the opponents of same-sex marriage planned to “concede the spotlight,” as her colleague Thomas Caywood put it May 12. On May 14, the date of the opponents’ last major rally, the Boston Globe’s Yvonne Abraham wrote that “those who led the battle against gay marriage will not lead protests at city and town halls on Monday, and they plan to avoid ugly collisions with couples that might be broadcast worldwide.”

Even as opponents argued that same-sex marriage was not a civil rights issue, it was impossible for the news media to ignore the coincidence that the first legal same-sex marriages in America would take place on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s historic school desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education. Newspapers in Boston and around the country ran the same-sex marriage and Brown anniversary stories side by side, more often than not on their front pages.

The best opponents could do was to pretend that there was no coincidence—as in the comment to Caywood by Larry Cirignano, president of, that the May 14 rally would be the “last thing before gay marriages start on the 20th or whenever.”

On the other hand, the Commonwealth’s leading opponent, Gov. Mitt Romney, managed to highlight the significance of the date by insisting that same-sex couples from out of state could not be married in Massachusetts because of a 1913 law designed to prevent interracial couples from states with anti-miscegenation laws from holding their nuptials in the Bay State.

“One of the enduring images of the civil rights era was then-Gov. George Wallace blocking the entrance to the University of Alabama to prevent blacks from integrating the school,” wrote the Arizona Republic’s O. Richard Pimentel in a June 7 column. “It is nothing short of ironic that Romney is using [the 1913 law] against gay couples.”

The decision to cool the protests did show that opponents had learned one piece of civil rights history: The violent response to school desegregation severely damaged the segregationists’ cause by revealing the fear and hatred behind the mask of rational public discourse. The “very hostile and militant attitudes” of some anti-gay groups, Rev. Kristian Mineau told New York Times reporter David D. Kirkpatrick May 17, might “discredit who we are.”

Having led Massachusetts’ Catholic hierarchy into battle against gay marriage, Boston Archbishop Sean O’Malley issued a statement expressing “sadness” that the day had come while at the same time counseling against “anger or vilification of any group of people, especially our homosexual brothers and sisters.”

“But it’s OK and perfectly appropriate,” teased Worcester Telegram and Gazette columnist Dianne Williamson May 16, “to make a frowny face.”

Lacking images of snarling, red-faced protestors, the national spotlight instead fell on gay and lesbian couples tying the knot—images that, as AP National Writer David Crary reported on May 18, conservative leaders hoped would mobilize people nationwide to rally around the anti-gay marriage initiatives surfacing in many states and in the nation’s capital.

Yet those like Boston Herald columnist and radio personality Howie Carr—who (on the Herald’s “cheap shots” page May 16) imagined a “circus” at Massachusetts city halls with peddlers hawking “XXX-rated products” and “amyl nitrites”—were sorely disappointed. Unlike the bacchanalia of a gay pride parade, May 17 proved to be a poster day for homosexuals as beloved family members, valued neighbors, respected professionals, and parents.

“Newlyweds make great B-roll footage,” E.J. Graff wrote in the online New Republic May 17. Graff predicted that “once those two nice girls down the street get their marriage license and the Earth doesn’t rumble,” opponents of gay marriage “will start to seem really cranky—and really, really mean.”

Indeed, on May 16 the New York Times Kirkpatrick reported that, across the country, backers of gay marriage bans were finding a “tepid response from the pews.” Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage told him, “[O]ur side is basically asleep.” The Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder of the fervently anti-gay Traditional Values Coalition, expressed puzzlement: “I don’t see any traction. The calls aren’t coming in and I’m not sure why.”

Addressing a GOP dinner in Allegan County, Michigan, sometime Republican presidential aspirant Alan Keyes blamed Republicans’ “complacency” on the issue, Steven Harmon of the Grand Rapids Press reported May 18.

Amid the front-page stories of “elated same-sex couples exchanging vows,” the Boston Globe’s Mark Jurkowitz wrote May 19, it was hard to find much in the way of an all-out culture war. Even on conservative-dominated talk radio, the topic “did not burn up the phone lines,” Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, told Jurkowitz, “It’s not a hot, heated topic…. I find a lot of conservatives saying, ‘I can’t get too excited about this; my brother’s gay.’”

“Americans,” opined Missouri Lutheran Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick in a Religion News Service story May 21, “are starting to get used to the idea.”

Possibly they had begun to be persuaded that same-sex partners were capable of creating more stable relationships than many of their heterosexual counterparts. “When the first couple to get a marriage license in San Francisco had been together over 50 years, and when J. Lo and Rush Limbaugh have already gone through three marriages each,” wrote Andrew Sullivan June 16 in The New Republic online, the case against same-sex marriage “simply falls apart.”

And so, the story might have receded into the background—but for the fact that this was an election year.

In Massachusetts, next year’s legislators must again approve the state constitutional amendment passed in the spring that defines marriage as a heterosexual institution while establishing civil unions for same-sex couples; only then can it go before voters in 2006. Since voters will decide this fall who fills every seat in the legislature, the future of the amendment hangs in the balance—including the possibility that a backlash against gay marriage might result in an effort to seek a more restrictive same-sex marriage ban.

“Our theme,” Rev. Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute told the AP’s David Crary on May 18, “is ‘Remember in November.’”

Elsewhere, Democrats worried that they would be become, as Bill Walsh of the New Orleans Times Picayune put it May 26, “collateral damage” in the “legislative battles around the country to enshrine bans on same-sex marriage in state constitutions.” Walsh reported that lawmakers in 18 states, including six expected to be close contests in the upcoming presidential campaign, either had or were contemplating putting same-sex marriage on their November ballots.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans increased the pressure in Washington, announcing on June 18 that they would seek a vote on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage—the Federal Marriage Amendment—in mid-July. Acknowledging that the amendment’s chances were nil, Republican leaders up to and including President Bush were widely reported to be motivated by the desire to gain political mileage from forcing opponents to stand up and be counted.

The news media were, to say the least, unimpressed. Coverage of the Senate debate focused on the fact that the Senate spent four days on an amendment supporters knew did not have the votes to pass, at a time when Congress had “failed to pass a budget resolution or any appropriations bills and remains deadlocked on such important public policy issues as corporate taxation and class-action reform,” as the Washington Post put it on July 14, the day of the vote. This was, said the Post, politics of a “crass and ugly” sort.

As far as editorial opinion was concerned, the sanctity of the Constitution trumped whatever sanctity traditional marriage possessed.

“The Constitution shouldn’t be amended to enshrine discrimination” (Newsday, July 13); “Though backers of a federal amendment say it’s needed in case courts strike down the federal law, that mere possibility isn’t a compelling reason to amend the Constitution” (Orlando Sentinel, July 13); “The Constitution should not be used to define marriage or deny rights” (Seattle Times, July 13); “It is foolish to put such a restriction in the Constitution, where it is exceedingly difficult to alter, thereby denying society some of the very tools it may need in the not-too-distant future to hammer out a reasonable compromise” (Omaha World-Herald, July 13).

And: “Social mores of the moment merit vigorous debate and legislative action. They don't deserve to be enshrined for the ages in our most precious legal documents” (USA Today, July 14); “Overzealous and unwarranted” (Times Picayune, July 14); “We oppose the Allard-Musgrave amendment at the center of today's procedural vote, on the grounds that it overreaches…. a good rule of thumb is that when it comes to Constitutional remedies, the best answer is usually the more modest one” (Wall Street Journal, July 14).

There were, to be sure, a few voices on the other side. On the eve of the vote, the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle asked, “Whatever made this country great and good, if not the sacred union of a man and a woman?” Yet, cried the paper, “As unbelievable as is the now-urgent need to set the institution of marriage in the hard concrete of the U.S. Constitution…it is even more unbelievable that a majority of our U.S. senators…may not have the gumption to do so.”

The Dallas Morning News, which could not quite bring itself to say whether it supported or opposed the amendment, called the exercise in the Senate a “debacle” and contented itself with wondering “why the Senate spent time on this issue this week with so much other important business before it”—as if the paper didn’t know.

All in all, the newspapers’ views did not seem a far cry from the vox populi. As the New York Times’ July 14 editorial noted, “Polls show that even many voters who oppose gay marriage do not favor the drastic step of amending the Constitution to prohibit it.”

In the event, a procedural vote requiring 60 votes to bring the amendment to the floor failed to win a simple majority. Yet even as it went down to ignominious defeat in the Senate, the president urged the House of Representatives to take it up in the fall.

The issue seemed to be struggling for breath until August 3, when voters in Missouri overwhelmingly approved an amendment banning same-sex marriage to their state constitution.

Leading up to the August 3 primary, the editorial page of every major newspaper in the state urged readers to oppose the amendment. Most agreed with the editors of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who on July 18 objected to what they saw as an attempt by Republicans “to put a wedge issue before the voters in an election year.”

On July 26, the Springfield News-Leader described the amendment as “needless fiddling with the constitution.” Joining the sentiments of the Post-Dispatch, the News-Leader argued that fears that an “activist” court might find Missouri’s existing marriage law unconstitutional were unfounded. “There is absolutely no indication that Missouri courts want to go there.” The amendment, they concluded “appeals to fear that has no foundation in Missouri.”

Missourians, by a 70 percent margin, thought otherwise.

Religious conservatives may not have burned up phone lines or filled the coffers of religious right organizations, but in Missouri they clearly showed up at the polls.

Nationally, newspapers that had reported on the “tepid response” of church-goers to the gay marriage issue tasted crow. Using fund raising as an indicator of voter attitudes had led them to underestimate the grassroots organizing ability of the religious right. The spending may have been “lopsided,” with opponents of the amendment spending $450,000, compared to the $19,000 spent by its supporters, but as Seth Kilbourn, field director for the Human Rights Campaign told Monica Davey in the New York Times August 4, the amendment’s opponents were “out-organized.”

The record turnout for a primary election, reported Davey, “sent a resounding message around the country.” Like Davey, Staci D. Kramer predicted in the August 5 Christian Science Monitor that Missouri “may be a harbinger of similar votes set to occur in at least nine states this fall. After all Missouri, as a demographic microcosm of the country, has a reputation as a political bellwether.”

Whatever traction it has with the electorate as a whole, for the armies of the left and right alike, same-sex marriage has become the battle royal of the contemporary culture war.


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