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Lessons from the Struggle for Marriage Equality in Massachusetts

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Thanks to the urgent efforts of the religious right, the anti-marriage equality amendment is on the ballot in California is narrowly ahead in recent polls. And we should expect a fierce battle to the finish. Longtime Religious Right leader Chuck Colson calls the California initiative “the armaggeddon of the culture war.” Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage says “This is ground zero in a culture war that the California Supreme Court just declared on Christianity and every single faith.”

Meanwhile in Connecticut, a referendum held every 20 years as to whether a sate constitutional convention should be held, coincidentally is being held this year, and opponents of marriage equality are urging a “yes” vote in order to try to make it easier to change the constitution regarding marriage, and thereby overturn the decision of the state Supreme Court. The effort ggained momentum when the state’s Catholic Bishops urged a “yes” vote, making statewide news.

As these battles are being fought, there are lessons to be learned along the way — even as Beltway Insiders keep claiming, all evidence to the contrary not withstanding, that the culture wars are over or are fading, and that the religious right is dead, or in precipitous decline. These kinds of thought-stopping declarations tend to prevent us from having the kinds of conversations we actually need to be having about political reality.

While is not clear whether the CT constitutional convention measure will pass, it does enjoy the support of a number of groups such as the Connecticut Family Institute (the state political arm of Focus on the Family Action) as well as GOP Gov. Jodi Rell. It is also not clear that if it did pass, the convention would take up the issue of marriage equality. But no matter what happens, the issue promises to remain alive in CT politics for the forseeable future.

As it happens, I featured an essay about some of the lessons of the Massachusetts experience in Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. The essay is authored by Leo Maley, a longtime political, labor, and yes, community organizer. He currently chairs the Amherst, MA Democratic Town Committee.  Here are a few quotes from his piece:

The back-story of this historic civil and human rights victory is the role of over 1,000 clergy–and numerous laypersons–who, in publicly supporting marriage equality, powerfully reframed the same-sex marriage debate in a way that helped lead to this major progressive achievement. However, the historic Goodridge decision is not the achievement I am talking about. Instead, the victory to which religious progressives contributed so significantly was the dramatic showdown vote in the state legislature in 2006 that headed off a state-wide ballot question designed to undo Goodridge and thus write discrimination into the Massachusetts constitution. This success story should embolden and inspire progressive religious activists as a model for organizing on this issue over the long haul…
In June 2006, RCFM [the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry] publicly confronted what it called the “bigotry espoused in the name of faith,” by releasing an open letter that charged the Catholic Church with “religious discrimination” for trying to deny legal recognition to marriages conducted by clergy of other faiths. (Keep in mind that Catholics comprise fully half of the population in Massachusetts, and over two-thirds of state legislature.) The letter declared that “By proclaiming homosexuality and same-sex unions to be universally immoral and worthy of second-class status under state law, you are sending a message that our faith communities are immoral. You are harming us and our families and your own faithful as well.”

RCFM also gathered thousands of signatures from pro-equality Catholics on a “Roman Catholic Statement Supporting Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples in Massachusetts” which emphasized the “danger of one religious tradition or doctrine dominating another,” and affirmed the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state. The Statement recalled that Roman Catholics were once denied civil rights, argued that Catholic social justice teachings called for respect, “not merely tolerance,” and reminded the public that “same-sex civil marriage does not in any way coerce any religious faith or tradition to change its beliefs or doctrine.” RCFM’s challenge to the Catholic Church’s anti-equality stance was critical. And the courage and integrity of the religious leaders who stood up for what they believed, and effectively organized on behalf of their convictions, made a crucial difference in preserving marriage equality in Massachusetts.

His essay ought to be of immediate use in states where marriage equality is an issue, and for the forseeable future. It is worth bearing in mind Colson also said (as reported by Church & State):

“This is where if we lose, it would be very hard to turn the ship right again,” said Colson, according to a report in Charisma, a leading Pentecostal magazine. “If we win, we might start rolling back the other side. This is a major, major struggle, and we should spare nothing in defining marriage the way every civilization has as the union of one man and one woman joined together as one flesh, as we believe in the Scripture in order to procreate.”

You can listen to Maley in a podcast of a recent radio interview with Francesca Rheannon of  Writer’s Voice. (Dispatches contributor Chip Berlet and I also appear on the program.)

This Sunday on WMUA – FM (UMASS)

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This Sunday (October 12), from Noon-1 p.m. EST,  I will discuss Dispatches with Leo Maley, who is both a Dispatches contributor and co-host of ‘Focus,’ a progressive public affairs show on WMUA 91.1 FM (Amherst).   (The interview begins a couple minutes past the hour.)   You can listen to the program live on the web.  Leo’s chapter in Dispatches is titled:  “Organizing Clergy for Marriage Equality in Massachusetts.”  Here is a quote from his important essay:

The back-story of this historic civil and human rights victory is the role of over 1,000 clergy—and numerous laypersons—who, in publicly supporting marriage equality, powerfully reframed the same-sex marriage debate in a way that helped lead to this major progressive achievement. However, the historic Goodridge decision is not the achievement I am talking about. Instead, the victory to which religious progressives contributed so significantly was the dramatic showdown vote in the state legislature in 2006 that headed off a state-wide ballot question designed to undo Goodridge and thus write discrimination into the Massachusetts constitution. This success story should embolden and inspire progressive religious activists as a model for organizing on this issue over the long haul, as well as informing our thinking about a broader and more politically dynamic Religious Left.

Writers’ Voice

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Host Francesca Rheannon of Writer’s Voice discusses Dispatches from the Religious Left with contributor Leo Maley and me, focusing on models for political organizing — notably that of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts and the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry. This Friday at 4:30 PM, on WMUA-FM at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Marshall Ganz at Amherst College Oct 6th

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Marshall Ganz and former UFW general Counsel Jerry Cohen are speaking at Amherst College on Monday, October 6th.  In addition to Ganz’ work with the UFW, he has been an important contributor to Barack Obama’s organizing strategy. And of course, he also played important roles in the campaigns of Robert Reich and Howard Dean, and the founding of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts (PDM.)
He is also a contributor  Dispatches from the Religious Left:  the Future of Faith and Politics in America.  I think his chapter “Thoughts about Power, Organizing and Leadership” is important for anyone considering the state of progressive political organizing — what can go wrong, what should go right, and why.  
Activism in 21st Century America
Jerry Cohen and Marshall Ganz in Conversation with Ilan Stavans
Jerry Cohen was the UFW General Counsel (1967-79) and Cesar Chavez’s personal attorney.  Marshall Ganz is Lecturer in Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and an organizer for Sen. Barack Obama. Cole Assembly Room, Converse Hall.  Monday, October 6, 2008.  7 pm
Marshall is also a contributor to Dispatches from the Religious Left. Here is a quote from his essay, “Thoughts about Power, Organizing and Leadership:”  

A social movement tells a new “story.” Learning how to tell that story, what I call public narrative, is an important leadership practice.

Public narrative comprises three overlapping kinds of stories: a story of self, a story of us, and a story of now. A story of self communicates values that call one to action. A story of us communicates values shared by those in action. And a story of now communicates the urgent challenge to those values that requires action now. Participating in a social movement not only often involves a re-articulation of one’s story of self, us, and now, but also marks an entry into a world of uncertainty so daunting that access to sources of hope is essential. Telling one’s story of self is a way to share the values that define the people we are—not as abstract principle, but as lived experience. We construct stories of self around choice points—moments when we faced a challenge, made a choice, experienced an outcome, and learned something. What is utterly unique about each of us is not a combination of the categories (race, gender, class, profession, marital status) that include us, but rather, our journey, our way through life, our personal text from which each of us can teach.



Written by fred

September 26th, 2008 at 9:15 am

A Religious Right PAC in Massachusetts

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Over at Blue Mass Group, Lynne reports that  Jamie Eldridge a progressive MA candidate for state sentate has learned that religious right leaders from the Massachusetts Family Institute (the MA political arm of Focus on the Family) are bankrolling anti-marriage equality candidates for the state legislature.  Indeed that’s what their Massachusetts Independent PAC is for.  It claims to have spent several hundred thousand dollars on candidates over the past ten years.

Written by fred

September 23rd, 2008 at 2:53 pm

Support the PDM Half Dozen!

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Tomorrow is Democratic Primary day in Massachussetts, and five of the six candidates endorsed by Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts as part of the PDM Half Dozen are on the ballot.

The Democratic primary election is Tuesday, September 16.

The PDM Half Dozen are the 6 candidates endorsed by PDM in important legislative races where your financial and volunteer support can make a real difference—and 5 of those races may be decided on Primary Day!  Our work and donations will matter in these campaigns and we urge you to get involved.

  • Carl Sciortino (34th Middlesex – Somerville, Medford) – Carl was one of the original PDM Half Dozen in 2004.  Although he’s the incumbent and responsible for much progressive legislation, he is running a sticker campaign.  His challenger is a longtime Somerville alderman.  Carl needs our help, especially on Primary Day.   617-628-2008
  • Astrid af Klinteberg (5th Essex – Gloucester, Rockport, Essex) Astrid was a founder of PDM, and she is in a three-way contest against a DINO incumbent and an extremely well-funded challenger who was a Republican until just before this race.  978-884-6851
  • Ken Donnelly (4th Middlesex-Arlington, Lexington, Woburn, Burlington, Billerica) is seeking to fill Jim Marzilli’s former Senate seat  and facing a tough primary contest.  Donnelly is more consistently and outspokenly progressive than his opponent and has a strong proven track record working complex issues on Beacon Hill for firefighters union.  781-648-2008
  • Jim O’Donnell (22d Middlesex – Billerica) is running against a conservative Democrat incumbent. This is a chance to support a candidate who leans progressive and would represent real change for Billerica.  978-663-9965
  • Doug Belanger (2d Worcester – half of Worcester and suburbs) Primary race against a more conservative candidate and general election contest to fill the Senate seat vacated by a strong progressive, Ed Augustus.   508-797-Doug (3684)

Written by fred

September 15th, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Leo Maley’s Online Bio

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Over in the right column, you’ll find the list of contributors to Dispatches from the Religious Left with online bios. The only contributor without one available online is Leo Maley, who authored an important essay, Organizing Clergy for Marriage Equality in Massachusetts, which describes the pivotal role of progressive clergy in this successful effort, and a few of the key lessons learned.   Here is his bio as it appears in the book:

Leo Maley has worked as a union and political organizer, university lecturer, and think tank researcher. He has been a columnist for the Amherst Bulletin as well as a cohost of public affairs programs on Amherst community access TV and on WMUA-FM. His articles syndicated by History News Service have appeared in major newspapers around the country. He is one of the founders of Progressive Democrats of Massachusetts; is a member of the board of Casino Free Massachusetts; and currently chairs the Amherst Democratic Town Committee. He is a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC.




Gov. Deval Patrick’s Stand at the DNC

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On the apparent eve of a more progressive era, there are a lot of Beltway Insiders who want the Democratic Party and its candidates to pander to the Religious Right.  But Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, addressing a gathering of the Stonewall Democrats at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, urged them to fight.   The Boston Phoenix reports

“This is your party, and this is your country,” he told the GLBT gathering. “And don’t let anybody push you to the margins.”

Patrick went on to ask the GLBT community “to remember that there are others too, in whose struggle you have a stake… who have been pushed to the margins,” including racial minorities, the disabled, and the poor. “There is an awful lot of unfinished business in the fairness agenda” Patrick said.

Written by fred

August 25th, 2008 at 10:45 am

Candidate Patrick: Please Have a Talk with Governor Patrick

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Governor Deval Patrick’s ill-considered casino gambling proposal went down to a stunning, better than two to one defeat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The vote was 108-46. Now casino proponents are whining that the governor’s bill did not receive a full and fair hearing, even after many months of very public discussion. The simple fact is that the proposal to place three one billion dollar casinos in the state lost on its merits.

I will never understand why Governor Patrick blew so much political capital and public good will in making the three casinos the central feature of his economic plan. Patrick the candidate opposed casinos, knowing full-well the social and economic destruction they leave in their wake. To call his plan regressive, is to generously overstate what casinos are all about. But we have had that debate, and the regressives were routed.

Frank Phillips reported in the Boston Globe:

One of Patrick’s most immediate problems is that the casino initiative alienated a good chunk of his political base, particularly the progressive Democratic coalition that was at the core of his landslide election in 2006.

“I am saddened that he has greatly disillusioned his political base,” said state Representative Jay Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat and early Patrick supporter who voted against the casino plan.

Indeed. Candidate Patrick urged us to a higher standard of discourse. He called on us to become more deeply involved not only in politics but in the process of governance. He called for greater transparency in government and broad civic engagement. He said he would set a higher standard and restore trust in government. But, he delivered none of this in his casino gambling gambit. Instead, he fronted for a disreputable “industry;” using data derived almost soley from gambling interests, and those financed by gambling interests. He developed his plan with none of the transparency or civic engagement we expected from candidate Patrick.

I think Candidate Patrick needs to have a heart-to-heart talk with Governor Patrick. I think they have much to say to each other.

Written by fred

March 22nd, 2008 at 10:59 am

Why Governor Patrick’s Casino Plan is Going Down the Drain

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Leo Maley’s op-ed in the Amherst Bulletin spells it out. Maley points out that casinos are generally economically distastrous, and “result in considerable individual and societal harm.” Everyone knows that a lot of gamblers become “problem gamblers,” a term which does not nearly explain the breadth and depth of the “problems” faced by individuals, their families, communities and society at large. Maley reports, for example, that “Gulfport, Miss., saw a 213 percent increase in suicides (from 24 to 75) in the first two years after casinos opened in the city. Such numbers are replicated elsewhere.”

Seems to me that one of the best programs for suicide prevention would be to ensure that casino gambling never takes hold in Massachussetts. Here is an excerpt from Maley’s piece:

Money spent in casinos is diverted from other areas of the economy. Area businesses suffer. Looking at data from the state of Illinois, Earl Grinols, author of the most comprehensive book-length study of the economic benefits and costs of casino gambling, found that for every $1,000 in casino revenue, businesses within 10 miles of a casino saw a decline of $367 in merchandise sales. Commercial casinos actually generated net job losses in 42 percent of counties where they were introduced. A study in the June 2007 issue of the American Journal of Economics and Sociology concludes that the states “should not expect any long-term growth effects from legalizing casino gambling.”

Independently owned restaurants are especially hard hit. Drawing on ample data from regions around the country that have introduced casino gambling, the Massachusetts Restaurant Association estimates that casinos would force the closure of about 200 restaurants in the state.

These macro economic trends can undercut the economic vitality and diversity of an entire region. But the effect on individuals ought to concern us the most. Estimates vary, but it is likely that 40 to 50 percent of gaming machine revenues of a typical casino comes from problem or pathological gamblers.

A comprehensive literature review conducted by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that the rate of problem and pathological gambling addictions double among populations that live within 50 miles of a casino. A recent study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that more than 10 percent of people over the age of 65 are at risk of having financial problems because of gambling, and that older gamblers are increasing at the fastest rate.

A Harvard Medical School study shows that 6 percent of the population has trouble with gambling at some point in their lives and 4 percent – 250,000 people in Massachusetts – report that in the past year they have had problems controlling their urge to gamble. Now imagine if that number were doubled.

Written by fred

March 15th, 2008 at 12:56 pm