Local

State marks one year of same-sex marriage

byChristine Tolfree
5/20/2005

As Massachusetts marks the first anniversary of legalized same-sex marriage, some supporters of traditional marriage say that the societal impact of that change is already beginning to be felt.

Daniel Avila, associate director of public policy for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, said same-sex marriage has already affected public education.

"Talk in the schools involving same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships typically would have been included under the sex education protection or mandates that would allow for parents to be notified and give them the opportunity to take their kids out of classes beforehand," he said. "What's happened is that teachers and others are characterizing this education, not as sex education, but as civil rights education. Therefore parents are not being notified."

"The indoctrination is already taking place at full force within our schools. That's the first immediate impact, and that's already engendering some controversy with parents," added Avila.

One parent at Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington, David Parker, was arrested April 27 for refusing to leave the school until administrators agreed to notify him when the topic of same-sex couples was addressed in his child’s classroom. Parker became concerned after his son brought home a book entitled “Who’s in a Family?” which featured same-sex couples and their children as well as other families.

"We don't want to start introducing that topic to our son in kindergarten right now. It's too early by our estimation," Parker, whose 6 year-old son attends the school, told The Pilot in a phone interview on May 3.

Avila also raised concern that speaking out against the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage has increasingly been labeled as hate speech. Bay Windows, New England’s largest gay and lesbian newspaper, published an issue after the death of Pope John Paul II that featured an article about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

"The very first article of that issue started out by saying that John Paul II hated gays and then summarized Church teaching on the issue of same-sex marriage, and by characterizing that as hate speech, gave the first real pronouncement on where people tend to go with this," said Avila. "We're quite concerned now that Catholic institutions and other individuals who are conscientiously opposed to this will be characterized as haters and discriminators."

Avila also stressed that the long-range effects of same-sex marriage on the state will not be immediately felt. Some indication of the effects can be gauged by looking at Europe where the Netherlands approved same-sex marriage in 2001.

"We're finding now that social data indicating that the whole institution of marriage itself has gone by the wayside -- more and more living together, kids growing up without married parents," he said. "It's starting to show demographically just what a mess will occur."

The redefinition of marriage changes it from a child-based institution, designed for the best interests of children, to an institution that is simply for the benefit of adults, he added.

The MCC and others who want to uphold the traditional definition of marriage are exploring different ways to make that possible. Avila said the MCC is “looking at different avenues.”

The MCC is not supporting the constitutional amendment proposed by Senate President Robert E. Travaglini at last year’s constitutional convention that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman but, at the same time, create civil unions.

Avila said that, when the other amendments proposed last year failed, the MCC encouraged legislators to vote their conscience, understanding that the Travaglini amendment, if passed, could cause the SJC to revisit the Goodrich ruling or at least delay its implementation.

But the SJC upheld the Goodridge vs. Department of Public Heath decision, and Massachusetts became the first state with legal same-sex marriage on May 17. Since that day, some 6,200 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples.

Recently the delegates of the Massachusetts Democratic Party Convention voted by an overwhelming margin to endorse same-sex marriage in their platform.

"The people of Massachusetts are living under a reign of madness," Brian Camenker of the Article 8 Alliance said at a press conference held on May 17. Camenker is director of Article 8, which opposes same-sex marriage and seeks the removal of the SJC justices who voted in favor of establishing it.

Article 8 is not affiliated with the archdiocese and the Church has not called for the ouster of judges supporting gay marriage.

Camenker added that the past year “has been frightening, illegal, and despotic.”

At the press conference the group spoke about a booklet produced by the AIDS Action Committee, which receives state-funds. The booklet was distributed at a conference sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network at Brookline High School. Around 500 people attended the event, held for teachers and students of middle school age and older, Camenker said.

Several people affiliated with Article 8 picked up the booklet, which was on a table at the event, Camenker said.

The book, “Little Black Book: Queer in the 21st Century,” provides information on sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS, and gives graphic descriptions of different sex acts and then discusses their potential risks. However, the booklet also includes a “list of Boston area bars and clubs for the discerning queerboy.”

Sophie Godley, director of prevention and education for the AIDS Action Committee, said the committee did not attend the event at the Brookline school and added that the book was designed for a “very specific target audience.”

"Sometimes it makes people really uncomfortable how explicit you have to be in order to reach people around HIV and AIDS, but frankly if you're not the target audience, it can be really disarming," she said.

A woman who answered the phone at the school said that allegations are being investigated.

Also on May 17 couples who have married over the past year gathered on the steps of the Statehouse for a group photograph. One couple, Alexander Wasterhoff and Thomas Lang spent most of the day in front of the Statehouse with a sign that read “Thank you Massachusetts for one year of equality.”

"I'm very happy that we've been able to hold on for at least one year of marriage, and I'm sure that we will continue to be able to keep it. I'm very hopeful," Westerhoff said. "The more time passes, the more people understand that we just want to be equal."

AP materials contributed to this report