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Gay marriage and the Puritan kernel
Marriage comes to gay and lesbian couples: complete coverage

Listen to Henry Santoro's FNX interview with news editor Susan Ryan-Vollmar

Forum: Tell us what you think about same-sex marriage

Listen to Henry Santoro's FNX interview with news editor Susan Ryan-Vollmar

National Democrats should embrace the issue. By Dan Kennedy

Why the court ruling is so strong. By Harvey Silverglate

Next steps on Beacon Hill. By Kristen Lombardi and Susan Ryan-Vollmar

Media overdrive. By Camille Dodero

People are talking. By Chris Wright

Plaintiffs rejoice. By Adam Reilly

Right wing plots counterattack. By David S. Bernstein


Itís Tuesday afternoon, and the air outside the State House is bristling with the antennae of television-news trucks. The cause of all this media interest, of course, is this morningís ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ó namely, that there is no constitutional basis for outlawing same-sex marriage in the state. A historic ruling. A momentous occasion. An enormous bore. At least this seems to be the consensus in the 21st Amendment, the bar located across the street from the seat of state government.

"You wonít get anything out of me," says a late-middle-aged, pink-cocktail-sipping woman sitting at the end of the bar.

"Thatís so far removed from my experience," says her male companion.

With this, the conversation returns, once again, to the Scott Peterson trial. "Who goes fishing on Christmas Eve?"


"Thereís a God and thereís a Devil," says Abel, 50, standing at the Mass Ave end of Newbury Street. "And God didnít make marriage for two people of the same sex. He made a woman and he made a man for that sole purpose." Abel is scruffily dressed, with a hood pulled up over his head. He says he is unemployed. A military veteran? "No. Boy Scouts." As far as Abel is concerned, the gay-rights movement is a big con. "Theyíve got everyone convinced that this is okay," he says. "But itís not okay. Itís a ticket straight to Hell. Thereís no quibbling about it. [Homosexuality] is a sin. Iím not going to say itís the ultimate sin. But itís unnatural, man, it is."

A similar argument is made by two elderly women standing outside the Mass Ave T stop. These women, though, have documentation to back their theories up. "Weíd rather not use our names," says one of them, a sheaf of Watchtower magazines clasped to her chest. This woman ó weíll call her Mrs. Jehovah ó is white, and the other ó Mrs. Witness ó is black. Other than this, they both seem cut from the same cloth. "We believe in the Bible," says Mrs. Jehovah, adding something about "disgusting sexual appetites." As luck would have it, Mrs. Witness happens to have a Bible handy. "First Corinthians, chapter six," she says, pointing. "Men who lie with men will not inherit Godís kingdom." She adds, "And that goes for women, too."


As a gay man, John Bone, the co-owner of Antiques at 99 Charles, says he is "pleased" with the SJCís ruling on gay marriage. "I think this is another step towards equalization between gay and straight people," he says. "It puts us on an equal footing." And yet, he adds, "marriage doesnít interest me." A friendly, distinguished-looking man who doesnít appear to be anywhere near his age (heís 68), Bone has clearly given this subject a lot of thought, and he has come to the decision that nuptials arenít for him. "I donít want to emulate the ó quote-unquote ó straight world," he says. "Maybe if Iíd grown up and it was an option, Iíd be interested. To me, civil unions are fine. But the institution of marriage...." He seems to shudder a little. "Maybe itís my age bracket."


"I think people should be able to marry whoever the fuck they want," says a goateed kid who goes by the name of Bam Bam. "You canít help who youíre attracted to," adds his friend, Boner, "whether youíre straight, gay, bi, whatever." Bam Bam, 22, and Boner, 20 ó "We all go by street names" ó are hanging around the Pit, in Harvard Square. Bam Bam is homeless, he says. Boner is an apprentice piercer ó his face, which looks like a remainders box at a hardware store, seems to bear this fact out. "Isnít there supposed to be a separation between church and state?" Bam Bam says. "I donít know too much about the Constitution, but Iím sure [the ban on gay marriages] is against something in it." Someone suggests the pursuit of happiness as a possibility. "Right! Homosexuals should be able to be happy too!"

Meanwhile, over in Harvard Yard, blond and fresh-faced freshmen Charles Nail, 19, and Marina Hart, 18, are happy to lend their voices in support of the SJCís decision. "Personally, I think itís ridiculous for the government to say who can and canít be together," says Nail. Reminded that there are reasonable governmental restrictions with regard to cohabitation ó no one would argue that a man and a sheep, for instance, should be granted the right to marry ó Nail (no fool him) rolls his eyes. "Well, in theory," he says, "a sheep canít give consent."


George Bryant, 49, is peering up from behind a stack of leftist literature at Harvard Squareís Revolution Books. "I support the decision," he says, "because weíre living in a fascistic society. The Christian right is taking a stronger stand against certain elements that challenge so-called civilization." What Bryant means, probably, is that there is a wider political significance to todayís ruling than individual rights. In Bryantís world, this is another important blow to the Bush administrationís nefarious neocon agenda. "I hope this will force people to step up to the plate," he says, "to go against horrendous Christian fundamentalism." Though Bryant does allow certain misgivings about gay marriage reinforcing "traditional family," he is adamant that "we should acknowledge people as human beings, and acknowledge that love is legitimate, even if it doesnít fit the patriarchal mold."


"I donít think gay marriage has anything to do with sexual expression," says Christina Chin, sorting through a heap of whips and paddles at Hubba Hubba in Central Square. On the other side of the counter stands John Colby. They are deep in discussion about the implications of todayís ruling. "Massachusetts isnít going to allow this," says Colby. "Theyíll change the Constitution." Chin agrees. "Itís this state," she says. "Itís so conservative." To which Colby adds, "Despite liberal hot spots like Cambridge and the Berkshires, the Puritan kernel is still very prevalent." Colby, a shaven-headed 32-year-old, and the diminutive Chin, 26, clearly spend a lot of time arguing like this. "Iím a pessimist," says Chin. "A realist," corrects Colby. "Iím totally for [gay marriage]," continues Chin, "but you have to be realistic. This isnít going to happen in Massachusetts any time soon." At which point Colby throws a curve ball. "Whatís going to keep two guys, roommates, from doing gay marriage to get benefits?" he says. "How are you going to say no to polygamists?" He adds, "Iím against the idea of same-sex marriage," and the debate starts anew.


Emilio, a 44-year-homeless man, believes in freedom, and he believes in freedom of marriage. "I think itís up to the person," he says, sitting outside the Kenmore Square Store 24. "Live and let live." Emilio is certainly not alone in this sentiment. "This is the United States of America," says Patty, a manager at Condom World on Newbury Street. "Everyone should be able to do whatever the heck they want."

Meanwhile, standing at a bus stop in Davis Square, sixtysomethings Helen and June, agree to disagree about the issue. "She doesnít approve of it, but I think people should do whatever they want to do," says Helen, gesturing at June. "I donít approve of it," June adds, pointing out that marriages of gay and lesbian couples contravenes her religious beliefs. "Iím a Catholic," says Helen. "But I donít like people telling me what to do, so why should I tell others?" June fiddles with her plastic grocery bag. "I was shocked when I heard," she says, referring to this morningís ruling. Soon, Juneís bus comes by, leaving Helen alone on the sidewalk. "Who are the priests to condemn that life," she says, "when theyíre doing it themselves? Thatís like calling black red."

Then thereís Eddie D., 68, whoís rocking on his heels a little outside the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge. "Forget about the Bible," Eddie says. "Weíre talking 15 million years ago. Cavemen used to drag women into their caves, drag them in by the hair. Everything changes. Thatís the way it is. I love the Bible, but this is America ó itís got to be what people want to do. Itís none of my business, and itís none of your business."


"I donít like to draw attention to myself," says the pleasant-faced black man washing windows on the corner of Mass Ave and Marlborough Street. "Just call me Positive Influence." A 51-year-old father of two, Positive Influence says he has nothing against gay people per se, but he worries about the kids. "I donít approve of same-sex marriage," he says. "But a lot of the time, like Sigmund Freud used to say, a lot of the time people donít want to hear the truth. Itís very destructive for same-sex parents to raise a child of the opposite sex. Thereís no balance there. It could set the person up in life intentionally or unintentionally hating the other sex." He adds, "People are always saying in the courts, ĎWe want to do whatís best for the children.í If I was a lawyer" ó he knits his fingers and cups his hands, lawyer-like ó "Iíd say, ĎIs this whatís best for this child, being emotionally screwed up?í"


Reluctance to discuss the historic decision sometimes comes from the strangest quarters. At the lesbian-friendly Diesel Café in Davis Square, for instance, a reporter is practically bundled out of the door by the manager, while staff members sit around mumbling about "private contemplation" and needing time to "digest" the news. Then again, it can get much worse than this. One kid, loping through Downtown Crossing in full hip-hop attire, doesnít even break stride when asked to comment. "Fucking fags," the kid says, or maybe, "Fuck off, fag." Either way, the conversation is clearly over. Then thereís the guy at the Eagle, a gay hangout on Tremont Street in the South End. "Gay marriage," he says, his lips curling into a sneer. "Thereís no point in having legalized gay marriages when they usually canít keep themselves together for more than a week."

Issue Date: November 21 - 27, 2003
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