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Romney laughs off gay marriage

After Sunday’s St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast in South Boston, the hot topic of discussion was the appropriateness — or lack thereof — of State Auditor Joe DeNucci’s extended riff on gay marriage. (Among other things, DeNucci recounted a "true story" in which he told openly gay State Senator Jarrett Barrios that if Barrios and his partner, Doug Hattaway, get married this May, they’ll have to "flip a coin to see who wears the gown.") Less noticed, but perhaps more dubious, was one of Governor Mitt Romney’s opening jokes on the same subject.

About a minute after stepping up to the podium inside Local 7 Ironworkers Hall, Romney delivered this gem: "There’s nothing wrong with our supreme court in Massachusetts that having Wacko Hurley as chief justice wouldn’t cure!" Quick history lesson for those whose knowledge of Boston doesn’t extend back a decade (a group that, judging from the aforementioned one-liner, may include the governor): in March 1992, South Boston’s Allied War Veterans Council, the long-time sponsor of Southie’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, denied the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston (GLIB) permission to enter the event. GLIB, an organization largely made up of Irish émigrés, went to court, won the right to participate, and marched in 1992 and 1993. In 1994, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld GLIB’s right to march, organizers cancelled the parade. In 1995, the US Supreme Court reversed the SJC’s decision, ruling that — as a private group — the Allied War Veterans Council had a First Amendment right to determine the parade’s composition. (Public sponsorship of the event had been scaled back as the controversy dragged on.)

As the parade’s chief organizer, John J. "Wacko" Hurley embodied the veterans’ determination to keep gays out — which, of course, helped pave the way for the ugliness that ensued. In 1992, smoke bombs and beer cans were thrown at some of the gay marchers as bystanders shouted, "You bunch of fags, get out of Southie" and "I hope you all die of AIDS, homos." In 1993, when Hurley promised to continue the legal fight ("We’ll go on until we have a parade of a family nature," he vowed), gay marchers were spat upon and pelted with snowballs as sharpshooters watched from rooftops. In 1994, Hurley explained the parade’s cancellation by saying, "They’re not going to shove something down our face that’s not our traditional values."

Whatever one thinks of the US Supreme Court’s 1995 decision, the nastiness directed at GLIB on the streets of South Boston was an overt display of homophobia. And there was a clear subtext of intolerance lingering behind Hurley’s — and the veterans’ — determination to keep gay and lesbian people from participating in the parade. On Tuesday, Romney spokesperson Nicole St. Peter told the Phoenix that Romney’s quip "was in the lighthearted spirit of the breakfast." Maybe so. But would anyone direct a comparable joke at blacks or Jews — or Mormons, for that matter — at the "lighthearted" St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast?

If Romney has any desire to convince gay and lesbian constituents that his opposition to gay marriage is measured and thoughtful, his attempt at wit came at an especially bad time. "While it’s clearly meant to be a joke, I suspect there’s more truth to the fact that that’s Romney’s real opinion than not," said Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. "Wacko Hurley’s politics are a lot closer to Romney’s than the current [SJC] justices’, even though most of them were appointed by Republican governors. Romney is much more to the right."

Next time, the governor, who said he wrote his own jokes, might want to have someone vet his material in advance.

Issue Date: March 26 - April 1, 2004
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