"Occasions like this help us to encourage one another," said Ronald A. Crews, speaking to the eleventh annual fundraising banquet of Massachusetts Family Institute last Thursday night, October 17. "It gets rough out there." Crews is the president of MFI.
It has, indeed, been a rough year for MFI (www.mafamily.org), a Christian conservative organization that pitted much of its efforts at passing the Massachusetts Protection of Marriage Amendment -- only to see that campaign quashed in a typical piece of Beacon Hill political legerdemain.
Article 48 of the Massachusetts constitution says that the combined House and Senate of the legislature, meeting as a Constitutional convention once a year, shall vote on valid petitions from citizens. If, in two successive conventions, a petition gets more than 25 percent of the votes of the legislators, it is moved automatically to the ballot in the following year -- 2004, in the case of the Protection of Marriage Amendment.
The Amendment, really a rather mild definition that echoes acts passed in 35 other states (and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996), says, in its key passage, "…only the union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Massachusetts. Any other relationship shall not be recognized as a marriage or its legal equivalent, nor shall it receive the benefits or incidents exclusive to marriage…" (For more information, see http://marriagematters.org.)
Despite illegal efforts to block petition gatherers (amply documented in photographs and testimony by MassNews, Massachusetts' bulldog source for family and religious news), the Amendment got far more than the needed number of signatures. Public opinion surveys show support for PMA running at about 60 percent. It's a winner. An easy winner.
As such, it aroused a fevered reaction among Massachusetts' legendarily rabid liberal interest groups. They first challenged the petition with the Attorney General. That failed. So the Amendment went to the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the summer of 2002, sitting in combined session and presided over by Senate President Thomas Birmingham -- a Democrat, naturally. Birmingham was in the pocket of the AFL-CIO, one of PMA's best-organized opponents.
Birmingham's strategy? Don't allow a vote, never mind what the Constitution says. Instead, he had the body vote on adjournment, then spun that vote (137-53) to the willing press as a loss for the Amendment. As MFI's newsletter put it, "Then Birmingham immediately told an enormous lie: 'Today we saw democracy in action. They may not like it, but they lost 2-1.'"
And never mind that the legislators, after the adjournment vote, fled from the howling gallery to their offices and hid.
In fact, the 53 votes against adjournment represent more than enough votes to have moved the Amendment forward -- petitions require only a quarter of the combined House and Senate, with a total membership of 200.
As Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby pointed out, Birmingham used the same technique used by former Senate President William (Billy) Bulger to kill a term limits amendment in 1992. That never came to a vote, either.
Jacoby was the keynote speaker at the MFI banquet. "What's a nice Jewish boy doing in a place like this?" he asked, drolly. He recounted the history of Jewish immigrants to America, and pointed out that the religious movement among, primarily, Orthodox Jews like himself is the fastest growing segment of American Jewry. "Movement doesn't always have to be in the wrong direction," he said. "We are your allies."
The Amendment isn't MFI's only issue. In addition to the Marriage Matters project, which focuses on the Amendment and associated legal actions, MFI partners with A Woman's Concern in a effort called "Dad's the Man," promoting responsible fatherhood; funds the publication of a statistical survey of marriage in Massachusetts; aims to start research on the effects of gambling in the state; and will publish a brochure on teen abstinence.
Despite the past year's roughing up, MFI is moving ahead. President Crews said fundraising has stayed level, even in a down economy. And promoters of the PMA have filed suit to try to expose the illegality of Birmingham's actions.
Get-togethers like the MFI banquet are every bit as encouraging as Crews said. In fact, they are inspiring. I had never before -- at the advanced age of 54 -- attended any kind of political gathering. Not a banquet, not a fundraiser, not a rally, not a caucus, not a convention. Surprise: It is very nice to discover that you're not alone. And very nice to take strength from that discovery.
As Jacoby said, "Our beliefs are not just for believing. They're for doing…We're not allowed to give up."
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