Had enough? Citizens, take back your government!

Homosexual lobby plans 2007 strategy to push agenda in Mass. Legislature.

"Grass tops" approach to pressuring lawmakers, and more.

Over the first three weeks of January, 2007, MassEquality and the other homosexual lobby groups held "community meetings" across the state, mostly in left-wing churches, to reach out to their activists and discuss strategies on how to push their agenda in the Legislature this year. In particular, they talked about techniques to pressure, intimidate, and propagandize lawmakers who have still not caved in.

On Jan. 25, the Boston homosexual newspaper In NewsWeekly published a detailed article on what the leaders have decided.

As you will see, some of the main points include of their upcoming campaign are (1) getting key individuals to engage and pressure legislators, (2) neutralize pro-family leaders by engaging them in "dialogue" to get them to water down or moderate their principles, (3) getting large numbers of their people to shower legislators with emails, postcards, etc., and send letters to newspapers, and (4) recruit friendly businesses, labor unions, churches, and civic leaders to "educate the public" using their own propaganda outreach.

There's no question that these people are very well-funded, passionate, and willing to use any method at their disposal to win. In their eyes, the ends justify the means. Get ready . . .

Struggling for a Massachusetts equal marriage strategy

In community forums throughout the state, MassEquality says it still hopes to defeat the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in the Legislature; others think there should be a greater focus on statewide initiatives and religious dialogue.

In NewsWeekly
by Chuck Colbert
January 25, 2007

[Link to article]

Just two weeks after Massachusetts lawmakers voted to advance a ballot measure defining marriage as the union of a man and woman, marriage equality advocates are struggling to determine strategy.

MassEquality, the umbrella coalition of organizations formed to preserve the right to marry, held community forums throughout the state, saying it still hopes to stop the amendment from going to a statewide ballot. "We are focused right now on defeating the amendment in the Legislature," said MassEquality Campaign Director Marc Solomon on Wednesday, Jan. 17, at St. Paul's Cathedral across from the Boston Common.

Some of the approximately 50 people who attended the open community discussion in Boston expressed concerns about an emphasis on a Statehouse approach.

"Maybe we need to change strategy," said longtime gay community activist Rich Braun, and "push with the people."

At the meeting - one of several held in a variety of locations all across the state, from Boston to Springfield, Lowell to Hingham, Northampton to Gloucester - Solomon took participants through a historical analysis of the battle to maintain marriage equality in Massachusetts, the only state where same-sex couples can legally wed.

Solomon spoke of the increasing support among lawmakers to preserve the Massachusetts 2003 Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) Goodridge decision, which legalized marriage for same-sex couples, noting that the numbers of pro-equality legislators, meeting in joint sessions as Constitutional Convention (ConCon) has almost tripled.

'Grass tops' strategy with lawmakers

With fewer and more difficult- to-persuade lawmakers up for grabs, MassEquality plans a legislator-by-legislator strategy that uses a variety of focused and tested techniques, including putting "grass tops" into action.

"A grass top is someone who has personal access to a legislator," Solomon said, adding, "Someone who knows him, a personal friend. Or someone he has to listen to, like a business leader in a legislator's district who has a kid who is gay."

Mass. state Rep. Michael Moran (D-Brighton) went further in explaining the grass-tops strategy. "Concentrate on friends, family, cousins and in-laws," he said, explaining how to get close to a lawmaker. Letter writing from outside a legislative district is "useless," he said. Moreover, Moran suggested, advocates should be clear with lawmakers: "It's about taking away people's rights. That cannot be tolerated here in this state or any state in the country."

During the open discussion, with questions and answers, many people in attendance offered observations and suggestions. One person was Pam Chamberlain, a researcher with Political Research Associates, a progressive-values, independent, nonprofit research center, located in Somerville, Mass. She urged the crowd to consider the potential in organizing religious communities, including those of color, as well as in rural districts. "There's an intersection here," she said. "It has to do with race and religion.

Religious discourse encouraged

Chamberlain had a bigger picture in mind. The right wing has used other kinds of anti-gay marriage amendments in other states "to build a movement for many other things besides fighting same-sex marriage," she explained, adding "Be prepared for the long haul."

Rich Braun, a longtime gay community activist, voiced similar concerns about the future. "The opposition is going to the max; they have a ballot committee right now, and we don't so far as I know," he said.

Paul Philpy, who worships at Trinity Boston Episcopal Church, asked about religious dialogue with opponents of same-sex marriage. After a rally on Beacon Hill, Philpy, who holds a master of divinity degree, said he had a conversation with one man, a gay marriage detractor. "I wish I could tell you my theological underpinnings, why I came out of the closet," he said to the man who agreed, Philpy explained.

He asked Solomon and the gathering: "Why can't we take this to the core at the religious right churches and talk religion to our opponents so that they understand our point?"

Solomon said he had not addressed that concern fully during the meeting.

In a follow up phone conversation, Solomon said MassEquality would use "every lever we have, including pro-gay clergy to make our case," adding, "We can't let religion be used to promote discrimination."

Devon Lerner, executive director of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, said for her organization, "It's a matter of capacity, what we can and cannot do."

Afterward, she explained over the phone and in e-mail, "There's no question that Evangelicals and right wing religious groups form the core of opposition to marriage equality. Confronting their anti-gay messages and religious campaigns are critical in this struggle. Engaging in heart to heart conversations with our religious opponents is important."

During the last year, the RCFM has repeatedly asked for a face-to-face meeting with O'Malley to discuss different religious views on marriage equality. "O'Malley has never responded," she said.

"We extend an open invitation to Dr. Roberto Miranda, pastor and Chair of Voteonmarriage.org to talk with us as well. In his Master Plan, Miranda talks about the virus of homosexuality and claims that the terrorist act of 9/11 and marriage equality are somehow linked. He wants to reclaim Massachusetts and make everyone "obedient of Christ" as he interprets this. His words are degrading and inflammatory, not only to our gay and lesbian citizens, but also to the millions of Christians and Jews who don't share his understanding of God, community or humanity. I hope Dr. Miranda accepts our invitation to begin a dialogue about our differences and about the real people and families this debate affects," said Lerner. "We hope they will take us up on our offer. Understanding and justice can only happen through honest dialogue."

Attempts to reach the Boston Archdiocese and VoteOnMarriage.org were unsuccessful.

Arline Isaacson, chairwoman of the Caucus (Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus) voiced her support for the RCFM's attempts for dialogue. "Of course, religious people should be talking to religious people," she said over the phone."

Rev. Anne C. Fowler, president of the religious coalition's board, offered yet another perspective on the importance of religious discourse "Pro-gay, pro-marriage voices must be heard," she said over the phone and in e-mail. "The more I do this work, the more I believe the religious language on the right is code for homophobia," she explained. "But we have to keep articulating an alternative vision and taking the high road."

Isaacson emphasized strategic collaboration. "For us to succeed we need all the organizations in MassEquality to re-dedicate themselves and turbo-charge their efforts to defeat the amendment," she said. "We need every GLBT and straight ally to help us this year or we will lose. The price is too high for us to accept any excuse for complacency."

Both the Caucus and the RCFM are member organizations of the MassEquality.org umbrella group.

The strategy to date

During the Boston forum, Solomon gave a PowerPoint presentation showing the process from the 2003 Goodridge decision to the Jan. 2 Constitutional Convention.

Solomon spoke of the increasing support among lawmakers to preserve Goodridge, noting that the numbers of pro-equality legislators, meeting in joint sessions as Constitutional Convention, or ConCon, have grown from 50 to 148 in a little more than three years.

At the same time, the equality coalition of groups, including some based within the GLBT-community and straight allied organizations, defeated one gay marriage ban amendment with civil unions provisions in 2004 and 2005.

Indeed both sides opposed the compromise measure, with gay marriage advocates saying civil unions were separate and inherently unequal. Defenders of traditional marriage also opposed them, decrying them as marriage in-all-but name.

In flexing its legislative muscle, Solomon said, MassEquality marshaled grass roots support from more than 500,000 constituents, mobilized by a coordinated field effort. The aim was to contact legislators directly using e-mail, postcards, cell-phone calls.

Getting straight allies on board

MassEquality also persuaded powerful allies among business and civic leaders, organized labor, pro-equality clergy, and people of faith to press the Legislature and educate the public. Borrowing on the civil rights legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., African-American civil leaders also voiced their support for marriage equality.

The public education initiative focused on a letters-to-the editor campaign across the state, editorials and op-ed pieces, as well as television, radio, and online advertising. An overarching theme reinforced a key message: "No discrimination in the Constitution"; and "It's time to move on."

Power of personal persuasion

Better yet, MassEquality pulled together hundreds of meetings of married same-sex couples and their families with lawmakers. Those face-to-face meetings proved to be highly effective in changing legislators' hearts and minds. Solomon pointed to the example of state Sen. James Timilty (D-Walpole), who said, explaining his own reversal: "When I looked in the eyes of the children living with these couples, I decided that I don't feel at this time same-sex marriage has hurt the Commonwealth in any way. In fact, I would say that in my view it has had a good effect for the children in these families."

Nonetheless, in a stunning reversal of outcomes from previous ConCons, lawmakers voted, on Jan. 2, the last day of the Legislature's official business, to send the gay marriage ban on to the next session for consideration. The vote to advance was 62 to 134. The ban needed support from only 50 lawmakers, a very low threshold of one-quarter of 200 total senators and representatives.

"The December surprise," Solomon said is what went wrong for marriage equality, referring to a lawsuit gay marriage detractors filed in state court. Then on Dec. 27, "The SJC [Supreme Judicial Court] went out of its way to say legislators had a [constitutional] obligation to vote on the merits but didn't compel them," he said.

Support to defeat the marriage ban crumbled afterward, Solomon explained. "Before that we had the votes lined up to adjourn that day."

Still, Solomon said, to defeat the amendment about nine-plus lawmakers must be won over. And lobbying efforts on both sides of the issue will attempt "to pick off votes," he said. "It will take more than nine votes - 15 or so" to ensure defeat of the anti-gay amendment on the merits.

Heading into the new legislative year, gay marriage advocates say they have picked up a handful of pro-marriage votes, with the unseating of four anti-gay lawmakers. Altogether, not one pro-equality legislator has lost a re-election race. In flexing its electoral muscle, MassEquality has elected 23 pro-equality candidates to 30 open seats. The organization sent out more than one millions pieces of campaign literature in support of the organization's endorsed candidates.

State Representatives Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge), Carl Sciortino (D-Somerville) and Michael Moran (D-Brighton) were also in attendance.

"We can win in the Legislature," Wolf said when asked about the outcome. "Will we win? I do not know," she added. "But it will take work." Wolf has a clear message that she wants supporters to spread across the commonwealth and send to Beacon Hill: "This has to end this year," she said. "We do not want it on the ballot."

Marriage equality advocates remain hopeful

Referring to the more than 8,500 already married same-sex couples, Marc Solomon, said, "Our side has one thing our opponents don't have: Real human stories, we can talk about with legislators, about what marriage equality means in a personal way." •