Thursday, February 08, 2007

Building Momentum on Marriage Equality

Last night, the Marriage Equality Coalition of the South Coast hosted Marc Solomon of Mass Equality in New Bedford. Marc came prepped with a power-point presentation to discuss the history of the marriage movement post Goodridge - and where we're at now. Specifically, they're focused on avoiding a plebiscite, but are prepared to raise the "15-20 million" they'll need to defeat Team Homophobia if we lose at the next ConCon.

While I appreciate Mass Equality's efforts on marriage equality - there may be no such equality without it - I can't help but think we need to try our hand at some new tactics. To be successful, any movement has to stay on top of their opponents in all sorts of areas - so when Solomon spoke about how anti-marriage foes were winning the rhetorical debate with 'let the people vote' chants, it makes me a little worried. Clearly, we're not staying on top of things.

A movement needs foresight to be effective - this isn't just about the next ConCon. To win, we need to build momentum on our side again - set the discourse and look like the sure bet. To do that, we need some successes and new messages going into the next ConCon. In terms of messaging, it's time to challenge the very principal upon which we allow the plebiscite to determine rights of the minority.

Even many conservative Republicans would agree that 25% of the legislature is a bar set too low to move amendments forward; why not push that angle? If the public disagrees with the amendment process, they're not going to care if we block this amendment procedurally. It won't cost a single legislator their seat. We need a narrative that says "civil rights now, procedure later" and promise not to block anything procedurally when the process is fair. The fact is I am a process person, but when it just doesn't work and is universally ignored, it's time to scrap it.

I asked Marc Solomon about trying to change the process and he essentially told me 'maybe you could start that movement' last night, because Mass Equality just wasn't going to do it. As if this 22 year old, broke college student could do that? Solomon's missing a golden opportunity to shape the debate - and look toward the future. He's also missing an opportunity to bring in allies, key in the marriage debate, who would easily agree with a new amendment process.

It seems like lots of people think if we can kill the amendment this year, it'll be dead for good. Well, it's not that hard to get 68,000 signatures - so that kind of thinking is crazy. Unless people want to be stopping these petitions every year by the slimmest of margins (since it only takes 25% of state legislators to pass), we ought to be trying to overhaul the system.

Secondly, we need some small successes and momentum going into the next ConCon. The atmosphere must belong to us. To do that, I suggest Mass Equality and allies demand the state legislature repeal the 1913 racist/homophobic law that stops out-of-state gay couples from getting married here. Governor Patrick is our ally on this issue; we've got our ace on the mound. It's message-sending time: we can push equality bill after equality bill until people get the basic concept that Massachusetts is about personal freedom, not suppression and religious intolerance. It's better to go in victorious on important issues, than last year's ConCon loser.

Marriage equality, in Massachusetts, ought to feel very safe. It's an almost 4 year incumbent that's directly benefited 17,000 people - 8,500 happily wedded same-sex couples. Imagine that kind of constituent service - and its leader admits the other side has the momentum? No sir-ree. People in Massachusetts have been very supportive, almost from the start. It's time to take advantage of that understanding and expand rights for all, by building momentum and using it to protect the political process from further abuse by amending the state constitution in a responsible way. Marc Solomon and Mass Equality could be a key to that process, but they're just not there yet.


Laurel said...

Ryan, I think you've got a great point about building momentum. And I like your idea about how to convince people not to be concerned about a procedural kill becuase "the process" is currently broken. But... why put all your eggs in teh MassEquality basket? I appreciate the fact that you personally are broke and a student, by why do folks assume it's MassEquality's responsibility to cover every possible angle? The org just isn't big enough to do that. And even if it was, if it can't/isn't, it's counterproductive to flail away at it. Seems to me that what you propose might be more of a job for national-scale orgs like NGLTF that have local affiliates. Have you spoken with them by chance? KTN formed in response to the whole petition fraud thing. Have they been approached with your idea? Might be right up their alley.

As for the 1913 laws, I think their repeal is already underway as part of Rep Rushing's attempt to clear away a whole slew of archaic laws. Also, he and Rep Wolf also proposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit petition initiatives on civil rights issues.

Anonymous said...

'We need a narrative that says "civil rights now, procedure later" and promise not to block anything procedurally when the process is fair'

Fair to who, Ryan? Who can make such a subjective judgement? There are stated rules to the procedure of making laws - ask the Health Care Amendment advocates how they feel about having the goalposts moved near the end of the game.

Ryan - there will be a plebiscite, and THAT is where your efforts should be concentrated. You can win that vote!

Ryan Adams said...

My eggs aren't all in one basket =) I actually like what KTN does.

My focus was on Mass Equality for 2 reasons:

1. They're the biggest, at least in Massachusetts. It makes sense to try to get the biggest organizations setting policies that make the most sense.

2. I just so happened to go to a meeting, with Marc Solomon as a keynote speaker. If it was Tom Lang, my post would have been about (And I hope to interview him about his ideas soon. We were going to a few days ago, but ended up playing internet/phone tag.)

Anonymous said...

Petition initiatives are already prohibited on civil rights issues - the SJC said gay marriage wasn't one.

Ryan Adams said...


Who am I? An American citizen. As an American citizen, you can feel free to disagree with me. If a majority of legislators agree with my position - in part through my advocacy - then I win. Otherwise, I lose.

Laurel - one more thing - the fact that I'm a college student isn't stopping me from getting involved. I was only addressing the fact that starting a state-wide orgization would be somewhat unfeasible for me at this point. Give me a few years =p

Ryan Adams said...

blah - the above post was to the first anon.

To anon 4:34 - interesting point.

laurel said...

anon 4:34, you are incorrect. from teh Goodridge decision:
civil marriage has long been termed a "civil right." See, e.g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 12 (1967) ("Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival"), quoting Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942); Milford v. Worcester, 7 Mass. 48, 56 (1810) (referring to "civil rights incident to marriages"). See also Baehr v. Lewin, 74 Haw. 530, 561 (1993) (identifying marriage as a "civil right[ ]"); Baker v. State, 170 Vt. 194, 242 (1999) (Johnson, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (same). The United States Supreme Court has described the right to marry as "of fundamental importance for all individuals" and as "part of the fundamental 'right of privacy' implicit in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause." Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 384 (1978). See Loving v. Virginia, supra ("The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men").

Laurel said...

Hi Ryan, ok, fair enough. I think I misunderstood you, or partially anyway. I look forward to hearing what KTN has planned too.

laurel said...

anon 4:34, you were also incorrect that initiative petitions are currently prohibited on civil rights issues. Yes, come civil rights are protected against initiative petition attack. But all civil rights issues? No. Marriage is one such unprotected civil right. The MA Constitution sez:

The Initiative.
II. Initiative Petitions.
Section 2. Excluded Matters. - No measure that relates to religion, religious practices or religious institutions; or to the appointment, qualification, tenure, removal, recall or compensation of judges; or to the reversal of a judicial decision; or to the powers, creation or abolition of courts; or the operation of which is restricted to a particular town, city or other political division or to particular districts or localities of the commonwealth; or that makes a specific appropriation of money from the treasury of the commonwealth, shall be proposed by an initiative petition; but if a law approved by the people is not repealed, the general court shall raise by taxation or otherwise and shall appropriate such money as may be necessary to carry such law into effect.

Neither the eighteenth amendment of the [MA] constitution, as approved and ratified to take effect on the first day of October in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, nor this provision for its protection, shall be the subject of an initiative amendment.

No proposition inconsistent with any one of the following rights of the individual, as at present declared in the declaration of rights, shall be the subject of an initiative or referendum petition: The right to receive compensation for private property appropriated to public use; the right of access to and protection in courts of justice; the right of trial by jury; protection from unreasonable search, unreasonable bail and the law martial; freedom of the press; freedom of speech; freedom of elections; and the right of peaceable assembly.

No part of the constitution specifically excluding any matter from the operation of the popular initiative and referendum shall be the subject of an initiative petition; nor shall this section be the subject of such a petition.

The limitations on the legislative power of the general court in the constitution shall extend to the legislative power of the people as exercised hereunder.

Anonymous said...

Laurel, from what you quoted there, it's specifically prohibited to raise an initiative petition in order to overturn a judicial decision, though, so under that section this entire action would seem to be clearly unconstitutional on its face, since that's exactly what's happening.

If that's the case, the Process people have even more to answer for, since this initiative would then seem to violate not only the clear spirit but the letter of teh law.

I believe, however, (I may be wrong) that the bigots skate by because initiative petitions that propose to constitutional amendments aren't subject to the same exclusions. (Which frankly, makes little sense, since as Ryan points out the cealing for approval is so low and anything that's excluded could just be refrmed into a Constitutional amendemnt with a very low threshold). Otherwise, again, getting up a petition to overturn a judicial decision is clearly prohibited.

Anonymous said...

"Fair to who, Ryan? Who can make such a subjective judgement?"

Uh..fair to everyone? Who "can" make such a subjective judgement, well, everyone. The writer of the constitution made it and made rather a bad call in the opinion of many. It seems fair to many to require more than 25% of legislators to vote for something in order for it to be advanced, since in almost every case voted on by citizens or legislators (like, say, amending the Fed Con) not only an actual *majority* but actually often, say a supermajority of 2/3s is required. See, making subjective judgments is easy, and it's fair to everyone since majorities are important when it comes to amending keystone documents or indeeed, when it comes to a small group of fanatics trying to force everyone else to interrupt their lives and take time out to vote on something they'd rather not vote on. What Ryan's proposing doesn't sound so baffling, whacked out, subjective or looney, especially for those who claim to be so keen on on democracy (which implies *majority rule*) and voting (ditto). You'd think that majority rule could be a standard, a rather UNSUBJECTIVE standard, we could all agree on, especially those who live and die by democracy. 25% seems like a loophole, a gimmick, a PROCEDURAL glitch. It's legal, sure, like all forms of parliamentary procedure, but is it RIGHT? In the interests of PRINCIPLE, forget what's legal, like using some shady anachronism to thwart Letting the People in the Legislature Vote and Have Their Votes Counted Equally, and do what's fair, even if democracy, amjority rule and teh American Way do put you at a terrible disadvantage. Majority Rule is controversial?

"There are stated rules to the procedure of making laws"

There are stated rules to everything, including judicial decisions and whether or not they can be overturned by plebiscite. But everything can be amended, constitutions, yes, but less important procedures, also, even though that's a much bigger deal, apparently.

"ask the Health Care Amendment advocates how they feel about having the goalposts moved near the end of the game."

We would, but getting too close often results in being trampled, getting shoved under a bus, or finding a large knife between one's shoulder blades, best to preserve distance. The Health Care Amendment advocates didn't seem to mind moving the goal posts when they signed on to Mitt's lawsuit to ask the SJC to do something it absolutely had no authority to do (bypass the legislative procedure and put both amendments directly on to the ballot), however. Odd, that. I guess moving goalposts is more fun when you're trying to screw your allies and less fun when it comes back to bite you instead of the less deserving. Ah, well, the HC people don't heven ave to live up to their own principles, while the gay community has to live up to everyone's.

"Ryan - there will be a plebiscite, and THAT is where your efforts should be concentrated. You can win that vote!"

Awesome! I can't wait to have to kill myself begging to be validated by 51% of the population. I have (some of) the same rights as everybody else--that is, of course up until the next vote, but hey, for two years I'm a human!

I'm almost excited as I was in '99 when Alabama voted to overturn their ban on interracial marriage, or in '91 when Mississippi voted to outlaw slavery. Sure, thanks to damn meddling judges I wasn't actually a slave and my parents' marriage had been legal for some time, but nothing gives you that warm glow that you get when your fellow citizens let you know they can make you a human or take it away, and they decide you really are a member of the species! Woo!
That lack of legitimacy that I had from knowing that no one ever got to vote on whether I was legitimate or indeed human--poof! Gone! Look Ma, I'm a real boy!

Do I sound bitter?

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