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Students Protest Marriage Ban

Proposed same-sex restriction ultimately defeated for Mass.

By Brendan R. Linn, Crimson Staff Writer

Sarah J. Sidwell ’09 stood near the State House in Boston Wednesday, only four days after moving into Pennypacker, waving a sign imploring motorists on Beacon Street to “honk if you love equality.”

Sidwell was part of a delegation of about 10 Harvard College Democrats—including a handful culled from Monday’s activities fair—who traveled to Beacon Hill to oppose a constitutional amendment that would have banned marriage between people of the same sex while authorizing civil unions.

Later in the day, state legislators defeated the measure by a 157-39 vote, meaning that Massachusetts remains the only state in which same-sex couples can wed legally.

“I come from a very conservative county, so it was great to see so many people thinking the same way I did about marriage equality,” Sidwell said of her home in Sarasota, Fla.

“Pretty much everybody went knowing that we’d likely defeat the amendment,” said Michael J. Robin ’08, another Dems member who demonstrated outside the State House. “We wanted to go anyway just for the symbolic value of it.”

Legislators first took up Wednesday’s defeated amendment in March 2004, when it passed by a 105-92 margin. Under Massachusetts law, the proposal had to be approved by two consecutive legislatures before being presented to voters for a final decision in 2006.

Support for the compromise waned between the two constitutional conventions, while more than 6,100 same-sex couples married.

“Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of the Commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry,” State Sen. Brian Lees, a Republican who co-sponsored the original amendment, said on Wednesday. “This amendment, which was an appropriate measure or compromise a year ago, is no longer, I feel, a compromise today.”

Ryan R. Thoreson ’07, a co-chair of the Harvard Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA), led another group of around ten BGLTSA members to the State House Wednesday.

“It was so different from last year,” Thoreson said, referring to the 2004 convention. “What struck me is you didn’t have the two really clearly divided sides...It was almost overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage.”

Sidwell said she saw a few demonstrators holding signs opposing same-sex marriage, but that these people later left.

But if Wednesday’s compromise bill lacked support from moderates whose views on same-sex marriage had softened over the last year, it was also abandoned by some opponents of same-sex marriage, who decided on a more conservative legislative strategy. earlier this year.

The Massachusetts Family Institute is one of the groups championing a petition for a new amendment, which would ban both same-sex marriages and same-sex civil unions. If the petition drive collects 65,000 signatures, the amendment could go before voters in 2008.

“Dozens [of legislators] changed their vote because of the availability of the new amendment—it’s better,” said Evelyn Reilly, the Institute’s director of public policy. “I think we should be able to get the [petition] signatures handily.”

With the next marriage vote in Massachusetts at least three years away, representatives of the Dems and the BGLTSA said their political efforts would probably broaden in the meantime.

“The history of the gay marriage movement is one of greater and greater acceptance. By 2008 it’s going to be a non-issue,” said Greg M. Schmidt ’06, the president of the Dems.

Thoreson said that, although the BGLTSA’s political committee hasn’t met yet, “other gay rights issues”—including housing and transgender rights—”are going to come to the front.”

—Material from the Associated Press was used in the reporting of this story. —Staff writer Brendan R. Linn can be reached at blinn@fas.harvard.edu.

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