Thursday, April 26, 2007
Salem couple’s new book chronicles struggle for gay rights
By Alan Lupo
It’s been almost three years since gay people began legally marrying their partners in Massachusetts on a day in May, which happens to be the very month that my wife and I will be celebrating our 45th anniversary.
People with a lot of time on their hands and fear or ignorance in their hearts predicted that allowing gays to marry would sabotage the institution of traditional marriage.
Well, mine’s fine, as are the marriages of lots of male-female couples we know. If there are any glitches, such as, “Fah cryin’ out loud, will ya please clean up after yourself!!”, they have nothing to do with Frank and Harry enjoying their lives legally together.
The gay-marriage bashers haven’t given up. They continue to lobby the Legislature to allow citizens to vote someday in a referendum that they hope will negate the Nov. 18, 2003 state Supreme Judicial Court’s 4-3 decision that denying gays the right to marry violated the Massachusetts Constitution.
Perhaps not since those for and against slavery fought each other verbally and physically in the years before the Civil War has the Bay State witnessed such passion over an issue of essential fairness and dignity.
Three local women have captured the history and angst of that fight in a new book, “Courting Equality: A Documentary History of America’s First Legal Same-Sex Marriages,” published by Beacon Press.
The authors are Patricia A. Gozemba, a former professor of English and Women’s Studies at Salem State College, and Karen Kahn, former editor of “Sojourner: The Women’s Forum.” Gozemba and Kahn, married in 2005, live in Salem. The photographer is Marilyn Humphries of Beverly, a photojournalist for various publications over the last quarter-century.
Now, I do not do book reviews; but I must say that Gozemba and Kahn know how to write, and Humphries does with a camera what painters do with oils. They have put together a historic narrative that ought to be used in teaching journalism students how to write history and history majors how to write, period. Taste this, for example:
“The marble halls, the finely wrought furnishings, the historic murals, the aura of history that emanates from every inch of the State House usually seems much more majestic than the mundane business conducted there. Fast gaveling, a wink and a nod, backslapping, and arcane parliamentary procedures often leave the ordinary citizen lost in any attempt to follow a piece of legislation.
“Moments of genuine thoughtfulness, soul-searching, and stirring eloquence occur infrequently. Opportunities to extend justice and equality in a very broad sense are rare in the day-to-day work of legislators. But as the citizens of the commonwealth and the world would soon discover, given the opportunity, twenty-first-century legislators could rise to levels of eloquence, insightfulness, and passion equaling that of their predecessors whose words and austere portraits surround them.”
The book is the work of people who understand the politics and behind-the-scenes tactics that characterized how the gay-marriage issue played itself out over the years. They understand too well the history of bigotry and discrimination that forced gays to remain in the closet for so long as well as the courage it took for gays to come out of that closet and fight for the dignity due all humans.
The controversial court ruling, they wrote, “recognized individual rights to privacy in intimate relations and acknowledged that choosing one’s marriage partner is an essential part of exercising one’s freedom as a human being.”
Their book captures the emotions of legislators who had to confront something alien to their earlier beliefs, and of gay partners and their children who suddenly gained the societal and legal benefits of marriage.
There is no need for us to vote on this issue. Courts exist, in part, to protect the rights of minorities in a democracy.
As Justice John Greaney wrote in concurring with the majority in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, the landmark SJC decision, “Simple principles of decency dictate that we extend to the plaintiffs, and to their new status, full acceptance, tolerance, and respect. We should do so because it is the right thing to do.”
Let those who continue to oppose this most human and humane concept use their energy to confront our common concerns regarding poverty, street crime, and the lack of affordable housing or efficient transportation. Leave alone those who do not interfere in your traditional marriage or mine.
Alan Lupo, a veteran Boston columnist who appears regularly on these pages, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org