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House Bill Banning Gay Marriage Draws Fire From Activists

By Kiratiana E. Freelon, CRIMSON STAFF WRITERS

CITY & REGION

In a hearing that brought religious leaders against gay-rights activists, the Massachusetts House Judiciary Committee discussed the proposed House Bill 472 at the State House yesterday.

The bill, which would officially ban gay marriage, is seen by supporters as a preemptive strike against gay marriage, and by opponents as an anti-gay statement.

The bill attempts to prevent future interpretations of the current law, which defines legal marriages as being between a man and a woman, but does not specify that marriages cannot be between two members of the same sex.

"You can look at this bill in two ways. First, this can be a yes or no vote on gay marriage. Second, you can look at this as a gratuitous shot at a minority community," said Mark Goshko, president of the Log Cabin Club of Massachusetts, a gay Republican organization.

Currently, judges in Massachusetts interpret the law to ban same-sex marriages. Twenty-nine states have specific bans against homosexual marriage, while all other states' judges do not recognize it.

Because the bill would have no practical effect, many gay-rights activists say it is a useless piece of anti-gay legislation.

"It targets discrimination on an already vulnerable community," said Jennifer Levi, a staff attorney with the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), a legal advocacy group for gays.

Levi said the gay community is outraged at the possibility of writing discrimination in the Massachusetts constitution.

"[The bill] will make it an open season to make discriminatory statements against gays and lesbians," Levi said.

Other gay-rights advocates agree, saying the bill's ineffectiveness actually adds to its offensiveness.

"This bill doesn't say anything. It doesn't even exclude us from anything. If anything, it excludes us from something we don't have," said Sue Hyde, the New England coordinator of the Gay and Lesbian Task Force, centered in Cambridge.

Opponents are also concerned that despite its lack of practical effect, the bill's repercussions could include instigating anti-gay sentiment.

"When people's rights are put up for trial like this, the hatemongers come out of the woodwork and make it a more dangerous place for the rest of us to live," said Rep. Jarrett T. Barrios '90 (D-Cambridge).

"It's about reaffirming the status of gay people as second-class citizens," added Barrios, the state's first openly gay representative.

Defining Marriage

But supporters of the bill maintain their purpose is to emphasize the traditional family, not to target homosexuals.

Supporters of the bill included several area religious leaders, who held a press conference early yesterday at the Omni Hotel.

The religious leaders stressed the importance of the traditional family as a reason for supporting the proposed bill.

Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., said the institution of marriage provided for future generations.

"The best institution for raising children is a husband and wife, a man and a lady married," said King, who has served on the Georgia legislature and who

"This bill attempts to continue an institutionthat will be the most successful for continuinggenerations of children, the institution offamily," King said.

Rev. Gilbert A. Thompson, pastor of NewCovenant Christian Center, the largest blackchurch in New England, also stressed theimportance of the traditional family.

"We came to proactively support the waymarriage has been viewed for centuries," Thompsonsaid. "We are not coming against anyone. Thisissue goes further to tear down the family."

"It seeks to destroy family as we know it, andthe health of the family is related to the healthof society," he said.

Thompson also noted that the bill was apreemptive move against legalized same-sexmarriage. Massachusetts currently recognizesmarriages performed under other states'jurisdictions. If gay marriage were legalized inother states, and couples married there then movedto Massachusetts, the law would currentlyrecognize those marriages. If this bill passed,though, the state would no longer be required torecognize these marriages.

"This bill is to settle through the democraticprocess...what marriage is and has been forhundreds of years," said Matthew Daniels, head ofthe Massachusetts Family Institute, whichsponsored the religious delegation.

Among other leaders, the delegation includedrepresentatives from the Roman CatholicArchdiocese of Boston, the Islamic Center of NewEngland, area synagogues and churches, and theChinese Evangelical Church.

Empty Words?

Yesterday's hearing saw supporters from bothsides arguing in favor of and against the bill.

The seemingly innocuous bill has come underfire because both opponents and proponents see itas a preemptive move on the future of gay marriagein Massachusetts.

"If the bill is adopted, then it can be used byopponents of the gay rights. It can be used tochill and defeat other legislation related to gayrights," Goshko said.

"It's a way of getting a major policy statementsaid that will have no effect. It sends a chillingmessage that you are not equal," he added.

Gay-rights advocates also charge that thebill's supporters are attempting to appease themwith changes in wording that do not change theeffect of the bill.

In a draft of the bill earlier this year,same-sex marriages were specifically banned.

But the current version defines a marriage as"a legal relationship between one man and onewoman," without mentioning same-sex marriage.

"The purpose of the second draft is todisguise, and sweep a little bit more under therug, anti-gay sentiment and language, but it makesno difference," Hyde said.

However, the bill's authors maintain the billwas meant to define marriage "positively," notprohibitively.

Beyond the concerns that the bill would send amessage of inequality, gay rights advocates areconcerned with getting the legal rights that gowith marriage. These include hospital visitation,spousal consent for medical treatment, taxbenefits, inheritance, pension benefits, andfamily medical leave.

These rights are not extended to same-sexcouples.

Cambridge was the first city in Massachusettswhere unmarried employees could get insurance andsame sex couples can register as partners.

Gay marriage has been in the spotlight since1996, when the Defense of Marriage Act was passedby Congress. This act denies federal recognitionof gay marriages, and permits states to ignore theunion of gay couples married in other states.

However, no states recognize gay marriage. Somehave come close, however; Vermont, Hawaii andAlaska are considering bills that would legallyrecognize it.

The next step in the process of the bill is forthe House committee to vote on whether the billshould go to the full House.CrimsonSeth H. PerlmanA VOICE OF ACTIVISM:Rep. JARRETT T.BARRIOS '90 (D-Cambridge) is a vocal opponent ofthe bill.

"This bill attempts to continue an institutionthat will be the most successful for continuinggenerations of children, the institution offamily," King said.

Rev. Gilbert A. Thompson, pastor of NewCovenant Christian Center, the largest blackchurch in New England, also stressed theimportance of the traditional family.

"We came to proactively support the waymarriage has been viewed for centuries," Thompsonsaid. "We are not coming against anyone. Thisissue goes further to tear down the family."

"It seeks to destroy family as we know it, andthe health of the family is related to the healthof society," he said.

Thompson also noted that the bill was apreemptive move against legalized same-sexmarriage. Massachusetts currently recognizesmarriages performed under other states'jurisdictions. If gay marriage were legalized inother states, and couples married there then movedto Massachusetts, the law would currentlyrecognize those marriages. If this bill passed,though, the state would no longer be required torecognize these marriages.

"This bill is to settle through the democraticprocess...what marriage is and has been forhundreds of years," said Matthew Daniels, head ofthe Massachusetts Family Institute, whichsponsored the religious delegation.

Among other leaders, the delegation includedrepresentatives from the Roman CatholicArchdiocese of Boston, the Islamic Center of NewEngland, area synagogues and churches, and theChinese Evangelical Church.

Empty Words?

Yesterday's hearing saw supporters from bothsides arguing in favor of and against the bill.

The seemingly innocuous bill has come underfire because both opponents and proponents see itas a preemptive move on the future of gay marriagein Massachusetts.

"If the bill is adopted, then it can be used byopponents of the gay rights. It can be used tochill and defeat other legislation related to gayrights," Goshko said.

"It's a way of getting a major policy statementsaid that will have no effect. It sends a chillingmessage that you are not equal," he added.

Gay-rights advocates also charge that thebill's supporters are attempting to appease themwith changes in wording that do not change theeffect of the bill.

In a draft of the bill earlier this year,same-sex marriages were specifically banned.

But the current version defines a marriage as"a legal relationship between one man and onewoman," without mentioning same-sex marriage.

"The purpose of the second draft is todisguise, and sweep a little bit more under therug, anti-gay sentiment and language, but it makesno difference," Hyde said.

However, the bill's authors maintain the billwas meant to define marriage "positively," notprohibitively.

Beyond the concerns that the bill would send amessage of inequality, gay rights advocates areconcerned with getting the legal rights that gowith marriage. These include hospital visitation,spousal consent for medical treatment, taxbenefits, inheritance, pension benefits, andfamily medical leave.

These rights are not extended to same-sexcouples.

Cambridge was the first city in Massachusettswhere unmarried employees could get insurance andsame sex couples can register as partners.

Gay marriage has been in the spotlight since1996, when the Defense of Marriage Act was passedby Congress. This act denies federal recognitionof gay marriages, and permits states to ignore theunion of gay couples married in other states.

However, no states recognize gay marriage. Somehave come close, however; Vermont, Hawaii andAlaska are considering bills that would legallyrecognize it.

The next step in the process of the bill is forthe House committee to vote on whether the billshould go to the full House.CrimsonSeth H. PerlmanA VOICE OF ACTIVISM:Rep. JARRETT T.BARRIOS '90 (D-Cambridge) is a vocal opponent ofthe bill.

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