Has gay marriage changed Massachusetts?

Brady, Cole, and daughter.
Nancy Cole, Catherine Brady and Amelia Brady Cole say gay marriage has made their family stronger.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

It's 7:30 in the morning and this house in Cambridge, Mass., is bustling with activity. Like any other family, the three people who live here are busy cleaning up after breakfast and getting ready for work and school.

Amelia Brady Cole, 12, is loading the dishwasher. At her side are her parents, two women, Nancy Cole and Catherine Brady. The two got married in July 2004, shortly after Massachusetts allowed same-sex couples to wed. Brady says she never thought she would have the legal right to marry her partner of 23 years.

"I was surprised at how good it felt to do that, Brady said. "To take that step, to have a ceremony and have that piece of paper. It made a bigger difference than I thought it would."

Brady believes after nearly two years the issue of gay marriage has settled down in Massachusetts.

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Her wife, Nancy Cole, says being married gives her piece of mind that they have the same legal protections as married, heterosexual couples. Cole, who got her masters and law degrees at the University of Minnesota, says those protections include hospital visitation rights, inheritance rights and above all else, the right to care for her daughter, Amelia.

"For me," Cole said, "the thought that Amelia might be sick and I couldn't get into a hospital to see her because I wouldn't be recognized as her parent...that would just tear me apart."

Both Cole and Brady say they're troubled that lawmakers and voters in other states have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage. They hope that once people see that gay marriage isn't causing problems in Massachusetts, it will change public opinion in other states. As for their daughter, Amelia, she says she doesn't see why there is so much controversy.

"We're just normal people," Amelia said. "I don't know why some of us are different just because of the people that they love. I don't understand why that's such a big deal."

Rep. Phil Travis is pushing for the ban in the Massachusetts Constitution.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The big deal is that Massachusetts is the only state to allow gay marriage. Eight-thousand gay couples have been married since 2004, and the opponents of same-sex marriage have not gone away.

The Massachusetts State House is much like Minnesota's state Capitol. Tour guides shuffle from place to place, pointing out historical nooks and crannies of the building on Beacon Hill.

Rep. Philip Travis has been working in this building for 24 years. He's leading the effort to overturn the court decision and define marriage in the Massachusetts Constitution as between one man and one woman.

"We're sitting up here in the northeast as the mecca for homosexual marriage," Travis said.

Travis jokes that he's the most conservative Democrat in the most liberal state but gets serious when he talks about the court ruling.

We're changing thousands of years of history in Massachusetts by allowing gay couples marry and giving them the description of marriage.

Travis says he has nothing against homosexuality, saying everyone is entitled to their own personal lives. But he calls gay marriage immoral.

"We're changing thousands of years of history in Massachusetts by allowing gay couples marry and giving them the description of marriage," Travis said.

Travis failed in earlier attempts to amend the constitution. Partly because opponents of gay marriage can't agree on the best approach to an amendment and partly because the process of amending the Massachusetts Constitution is more difficult than other states.

There are two ways to amend the constitution and both need legislative approval. The first is by having a majority of the Legislature approve the amendment in two separate sessions. Lawmakers narrowly approved Travis' proposal in 2004. But it was overwhelmingly defeated in 2005.

The other way is through a citizen petition. The petition forces lawmakers to reconsider the amendment. And if there's enough support the question will be put on the ballot for voters to decide in 2008.

Kris Mineau
Kris Mineau is the president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

The Massachusetts Family Institute garnered more then enough signatures to jump-start the next step. Workers at the office are busy stamping post cards to lobby lawmakers to let the people vote. Kris Mineau, the president of the organization, is confident that they can convince enough lawmakers to vote to put the measure on the ballot.

"This is the last opportunity in this commonwealth to resolve the issue once and for all," Mineau said. "I believe that it's paramount that the people vote because otherwise we'll never know what the real heart of the people is about this."

Like President Kennedy's assassination, Mineau says he'll always remember where he was when he learned of the ruling.

Mineau opposes gay marriage because he believes heterosexual marriage is the glue that holds society together. He says the sole purpose of marriage is for the creation of children. He also insists that gay marriage and civil unions will erode the standard of marriage and says the children of gay and lesbian parents will be "unhealthy."

"Same-sex marriage simply says that the role of a father and a husband is irrelevant," Mineau said. "The role of a wife and mother is irrelevant. That they're interchangeable parts and we believe that they really aren't.

The Massachusetts Family Institute, like its counterpart in Minnesota, is working with the Catholic Church to pass the amendment. The argument is the same: "Let the people vote."

I think we're ready to move beyond it and accept the fact that the world hasn't ended.

But supporters of gay marriage argue that a vote isn't needed and lawmakers should focus on more important issues. And they note that candidates who supported gay marriage picked up seats in the past election.

Rep. Carl Sciortino is one of them. The openly gay Democrat defeated a fellow Democrat who voted to ban gay marriage. Sciortino says he'll lobby his colleagues to defeat the amendment because he doesn't want to write discrimination into the state constitution.

"I think we're ready to move beyond it and accept the fact that the world hasn't ended," Sciortino said. "That marriage equality has been good for those families that it helps and it hasn't hurt anybody else so we're looking to move beyond it."

Meoni and Kidd
Paul Meoni and Tom Kidd say they're lobbying citizens to let the ruling stand.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Sciortino says he encourages his colleagues to meet with the gay, married couples who live in their districts. He says many have switched their votes after they met couples like Paul Meoni and Tom Kidd.

They live on Boston's South Shore and got married last September. Kidd says he never thought he would have the right to get married when they first started dating in 1988. They talk about details of their wedding day like any other married couple -- the photographer, the church, even the wedding cake. Kidd says they don't feel any different from other married people.

"Paul and I are a monogamous couple," Kidd said. "We're married. We need that vow to each other and before we got married we made that vow that that's what would be. It makes our relationship so much stronger and safer and secure and I know that I will live with Paul until the day I die."

Kidd and his husband say they expect the debate to continue for the next three years. The one thing both sides agree on is that if the present attempts to change the constitution fail the gay marriage debate in Massachusetts will be settled once and for all.