urges investigation of harassment

BOSTON — Leaders in the campaign to put the legality of same-sex marriage before the voters held a statehouse press conference Jan. 26 to urge the state’s attorney general to investigate the identify theft and harassment of their petition signatories.

“It absolutely is intimidation,” said Evelyn T. Reilly, the director of public policy for the Massachusetts Family Institute, who was joined by Kristian M. Mineau, a spokesman for and MFI president and Larry Cirignano, the president of

Petition signers have received phone calls from individuals identifying themselves as from MassEquality, an opponent of the ballot initiative, and are asked if they signed the petition, Reilly said.

When the person responds in the affirmative, the caller becomes abusive and accuses the person of taking away human rights, she said.

Another tactic by the opponents of the marriage amendment combines intimidation and identity theft, she said.

“One gentleman received an e-mail from MassEquality thanking him for letting his legislator know about fraud,” said Mineau.

The man, David A. Cloutier from Shrewsbury, signed the petition willingly and never alleged fraud.

Cloutier also received an e-mail from State Sen. Edward M. Augustus Jr., D-Shrewsbury, who held hearings on signature fraud in November, he said.

In reaction to the e-mails, Cloutier wrote a Jan. 25 letter to Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly requesting an investigation of his civil rights division, he said.

Reached by phone after the news conference, Cloutier said it was laughable that his signature was fraudulent because in 2004, he actually went door-to-door collecting signatures for that year’s effort to put the same-sex marriage question on the ballot.

Cloutier said he was not motivated by a desire to restrict the rights of same-sex couples but by the principle that laws should be made by the voters or their legislators, not judges.

“This is something for the voters to decide,” he said.

With his permission and still on the phone, this reporter logged onto the MassEquality Web site, looked up his name first from the index of cities and towns, and then by clicking “C” and scrolling for his name.

The Web page requested Cloutier’s street address and once that was submitted, a form letter appeared from which an e-mail could be generated claiming Cloutier’s signature was invalid.

Cloutier said in addition to his letter to the attorney general, he e-mailed Augustus, but has not heard back from him.

Augustus said he received 40 to 50 complaints from his constituents claiming they were tricked into signing the petition, thinking it was for another issue, such as legalizing the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

The senator said he has not responded to Cloutier directly, but believes his concerns would be addressed by legislation he authored to reform the collection of signatures, Augustus said. The bill passed the Senate on a voice vote and is now before the House.

“I think the idea of looking up the signatures is a legitimate thing,” said State Rep. Michael E. Festa, D-Melrose, a candidate for Middlesex County District Attorney and supporter of the legality of same-sex marriage.

However, Festa said he thinks challenging the signatures, especially posting the names on the Internet, is a double-edged sword.

“If it is not chilling—at least it makes people uncomfortable,” he said.

As a matter of tactics, the petition opponents should focus on defeating the question, rather than pursuing a futile course of action, given that the petition received more than 170,000 signatures, he added.

Mineau said as of Jan. 25 only 2,000 signatures have been invalidated, less than two percent of the total.

As for testimony at the Augustus hearings by paid signature collector for Angela McElroy, that she had used unethical methods to gain signatures, Mineau called it a publicity stunt.

“We have stated clearly, we will not tolerate signature fraud,” he said.

“ is asking state officials, ‘Why, if her claims are true, hasn’t the supposedly fraudulent petitioner circulator, Ms. McElroy, been prosecuted, as we formally requested?’” he asked.