It didn’t take long for gay-marriage opponents nationwide to proclaim Massachusetts ground zero in the battle for all they consider decent and good. In the hours following Tuesday’s Supreme Judicial Court ruling, conservative groups were eager to encourage people both inside and outside the Commonwealth to make a stand here.
"We’ll definitely be sending people to the state, and ultimately other resources, monetary and otherwise," said Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, an Orlando, Florida–based legal-defense organization dedicated to what it defines as traditional family values. "We’re going to commit a lot of our resources there."
"For the next 180 days we’re going to be looking at Massachusetts," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, a 500,000-member organization based in Washington, DC. "They have made up this right of same-sex marriage out of whole cloth."
"We’re looking to assist the grassroots activists in Massachusetts," said Stephen Crampton, chief council for the Tupelo, Mississippi–based American Family Association Center for Law and Policy. "Our organization is going to do everything in its power now to make this an issue for the entire country."
"This opinion today in Massachusetts only serves to bolster the movement," said Joe Glover, president of Family Policy Network in Forest, Virginia. Glover compares this, along with the recent Lawrence v. Texas decision, to Roe v. Wade and its effect on the anti-abortion movement — except that "you’ll see a much faster movement to ban gay marriage, because the political infrastructure is already in place: the fundraising structure, the communications channels, and so on."
"There has been an apathy among most citizens on this issue," Crampton said. "Will this awaken that sleeping majority? I hope it will. I think it should."
"It hasn’t really slapped them in the face before this. This goes directly to the heart of the matter," said Staver, adding, "It undermines the entire foundation on which our culture is based."
The only potential barriers to civil-marriage rights for same-sex couples in the Bay State now seem to lie on Beacon Hill; legislators already get plenty of attention from in-state groups like the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), the Center for Marriage Law, and Massachusetts Catholic Conference. "We will continue to do what we have been doing — going to meet with legislators," MFI president Ron Crews said at a State House press conference.
Now Massachusetts lawmakers can also expect to hear from national groups and their local members. "People should not only write or call their legislators, but visit them in their offices, and bring people with them," said LaRue.
LaRue and others pin their hopes on the state’s proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage; you can expect money and activists to flow into the state to aid efforts to promote it — and to help punish politicians who oppose it. "It’s perfectly reasonable to expect the people of the rest of the country to encourage the people of Massachusetts to undo this decision," said LaRue. If the state ends up granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, predicted LaRue, "the first thing they’ll do is take action against the legislators at the ballot boxes."
"If we do not amend the Massachusetts State Constitution ... we will lose marriage in this nation," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in Washington, DC, in a statement.
Others, including Crampton, plan to lobby the legislature in a different direction: they will urge it to defy the SJC and refuse to enact a same-sex-marriage law. "That would not take place without pretty vocal, strenuous opposition," he concedes — so that’s exactly what his group is calling for.
For the moment, these groups are mostly advocating letter-writing and phone calls, but as things heat up, their organized opposition could escalate into public demonstrations. "We certainly wouldn’t rule that out at this point," said Crampton. "Peaceful protest is a time-honored tradition in this country."
Conservative religious activists had their poison pens out Tuesday to fuel that protest, framing the ruling in nearly apocalyptic terms. "We are witnessing the collapse of a once-great society," wrote J. Edward Pawlick, attorney for Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage.
"The Massachusetts Supreme Court delivers yet another blow to civilization," wrote William Murray, chair of the Religious Freedom Coalition, in Washington. Murray went on to place gay marriage on an anti-family continuum that has included "sex camps in Nazi Germany, ... forced abortion in China, and rape in the Sudan."
Expect protests from folks like these to kick up a notch if the state begins granting the licenses sometime next summer — just in time for July’s Democratic National Convention in downtown Boston.