Blacks Lead Repeal of MA 1913 Law

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Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston) first alerted me that the 1913 law prohibiting out-of-state gay and lesbian couples from getting married in Massachusetts would soon be history. Rushing the great African American leader of all civil rights causes in our state was out in front of even the gay movement in announcing impending justice.

Just as the Peabody Essex Museum June 26th panel on same-sex marriage was about to close, Rushing pleaded for one more word. He urged members of the audience to call their legislators and ask them to support the repeal of the outdated racist law that had its origins in preventing out of state inter-racial couples from coming to the Bay State to marry. “Mark my words, we can do away with that law before the end of this legislative session. Call your legislators.”

As the panelist sitting closest to him, I blurted out, “Really?” He smiled.

Sixteen days later, it fell to the lone Black member of the Senate, Sen. Diane Wilkerson (D-Boston), to lead that body in taking the first step to repeal the law. With a unanimous voice vote on July 12, 2008, the Senate began the process of dismantling the racist law. Wilkerson told The Boston Globe that the law’s racial history makes her proud to back the repeal. “This is one of the most pernicious statutes on our books. This bill puts the final nail in the coffin of those dark days.”

A skilled orator, Wilkerson, during the 2004 Massachusetts constitutional convention debates over whether the legislature should undo the Goodridge decision, gave one of the most searing rebukes to those legislators wavering on the issue of equality. Recalling her upbringing in Arkansas during Jim Crow, she declared, “I know first hand that world of almost being equal, I could not in good conscience ever vote to send anyone to that place from where my family fled.”

If history is prologue, it will probably fall to Rushing to steer the bill through the Massachusetts House. The cause of justice could not be in better hands.

The truly “final nail in the coffin of those dark days,” will be the signature of African American Governor Deval Patrick on the repeal.

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