BOSTON—A small contingent of Harvard students joined thousands of demonstrators on Boston Common yesterday as the State Legislature granted preliminary approval to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
The delegation from Harvard’s Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA) marked the group’s second activist foray to Boston since a November Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling that declared same-sex marriages legal under the state constitution as it currently stands.
“I was shocked with myself that I hadn’t done enough already,” said Joseph R. Geschlecht ’06 as he waved a rainbow flag. “I hadn’t been doing a whole lot of productive stuff. It occurred to me this isn’t an abstract debate. It directly affects my life.”
“It’s important that we get off campus and be part of the actual demonstrations and not only the theoretical debates,” said BGLTSA political chair Jordan B. Woods ’06, who organized the trip.
BGLTSA members also demonstrated at the first round of the constitutional convention last month, which ended after three proposed amendments banning gay marriage stalled in the Legislature.
Last night’s amendment, which prohibits gay marriage but allows civil unions for same-sex couples, survived three votes but must be cleared once more by state lawmakers at the end of the month and again by a newly-elected Legislature in 2005-2006.
It would then be put to a statewide referendum.
Several prominent gay marriage supporters—including State Sen. Jarrett T. Barrios ’90—at first voted in favor of last night’s ban in an attempt to block less favorable versions from coming to the floor. The final bill was opposed both by gay rights activists and by some opponents of same-sex marriage who thought the inclusion of civil unions in the bill could imperil the amendment when it goes to the voters.
Major conservative groups on campus chose not to attend yesterday’s rallies, and only about 20 students turned out with the BGLTSA.
Although the turnout was less than the 50 students organizers had expected, those who did make the trek into the city said the trip was worth it.
“This really is the civil rights issue of our generation,” Undergraduate Council President Matthew W. Mahan ’05 said. Mahan, who is not a member of BGLTSA but has demonstrated at both rallies, said that he supports full marriage rights for same-sex couples.
“These people are good human beings, and they deserve all the benefits of marriage and all the legal sanctions that come with it,” he said.
ON THE COMMON
By noontime, the steps off the Common leading up to Park Street were packed with people. Demonstrators, sporting stickers and signs, lined both sides of the street, which had been siphoned off to one lane by Boston police.
Cheers and chants filled the air, and many demonstrators screamed at the top of their lungs, standing in the shadow of the Mass. State House’s golden dome and red-brick façade.
The Harvard students made their way past a police officer on horseback silently watching the proceedings. They were armed with rainbow flags and handmade signs plastered with slogans. “No discrimination in the Constitution,” read one. “God Created Adam and Yves,” declared another.
“What do we want? Equal rights. When do we want them? Now,” gay-marriage supporters chanted over a thumping drum beat.
Inside the State House, outspoken Annenberg chef Larry Houston was making his usual rounds.
Houston, who says he used to be gay, has been lobbying state lawmakers over the last few months in support of a ban on gay marriage.
“No one can deny the negative consequences of homosexual behavior,” Houston said yesterday.
Houston said he has been telling legislators that he was the target of discrimination by Harvard officials, who investigated in 2001 whether he was actively proselytizing to students as a member of the “ex-gay” movement, which promotes the view that people can change their sexual orientation.
The landmark constitutional convention brought out many demonstrators, who, like Houston, were seeking to overturn SJC’s decision permitting gay marriage.
Nearly all of the anti-gay marriage protesters used religious motifs, and a large banner proclaiming “Jesus Is The Lord” was the most visible poster in front of the State House. A number of these protestors held signs urging spectators to say “No to gay marriage/yes to Jesus.”
“I don’t understand how people could dislike a group of people so much that they would do this,” Geschlecht said. “It’s very disheartening. They hate me enough to hold hate concerts. It’s really scary.”
As it emerged from the depths of the Park Street T-station yesterday, the BGLTSA delegation was greeted with a hand-drawn placard outside the terminal, emblazoned with the phrase “Homo Sex is Sin.” Another sign declared, “Sodomy: It’s to Die For.”
The students said that though the signs were disturbing, they were not unexpected.
“It’s there at Harvard too. It’s just not polite to say it,” said Geschlecht.
A few hundred yards back from the protesters, toward Tremont Street, groups of people held hands together in small prayer circles. Several hundred opponents of gay marriage were gathered for a religious show of protest against SJC’s decision. The group congregated around a stage, where reverends, gospel choirs and Christian musicians led prayers.
Inside the State House, demonstrators who managed to get through the doors before the building reached full capacity created a raucous racket. The chambers of the Legislature filled with echoing cries of the crowd, which at one point broke into a rendition of “God Bless America.”
Legislative aides and members of the press looked on as the ear-splitting chants continued unabated through the day.
—Jessica R. Rubin-Wills contributed to the reporting of this story.
—Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.
—Staff writer Michael M. Grynbaum can be reached at email@example.com.