Originally published on February 12, 2004
Gov. Mitt Romney has made no secret of his support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Goodridge decision legalizing gay marriage in Massachusetts - most recently in an opinion piece in the Wall St. Journal. But plaintiffs in that case who met with the governor Feb. 6 expressed serious concern about Romney's apparent lack of understanding of the negative impact the amendment would have on gay and lesbian families.
The plaintiffs who attended the meeting - Hillary and Julie Goodridge; Robert Compton and David Wilson; Michael Horgan, Richard Linnell and Ellen Wade - and their attorney Mary Bonauto of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said they had hoped to show the governor the human side of an issue that has degenerated into a political debate about the definition of marriage rather than a discussion about legal protections for same-sex couples and their children in Massachusetts.
But attendees who spoke to Bay Windows said the best defense the governor could offer for supporting the amendment was his belief that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman - and little else. The governor's office did not respond to repeated e-mail and telephone requests to comment for this story.
"[H]e just reiterated his belief over and over again that marriage is between a man and a woman," said Hillary Goodridge. "And when pressed for details - you know I asked him explicitly, could he articulate for me why his family is more deserving of the benefits and protections of marriage than mine, he could not answer. He changed the subject and talked about other things: His family and his sister - he has a sister who is a single mother - and how we don't give the same benefits to single people, so aren't we discriminating against them? You know he just kept going, he would not answer directly," she stated.
What most concerned members of the group who met with Romney was his response to Julie Goodridge's question about what she should tell her 8-year-old daughter Annie about why he believes her parents should not be allowed to marry." Though Romney later responded to the question by telling Julie Goodridge to continue to tell her daughter what's she been telling her for the last 8 years - the response that was broadcast on TV news outlets - according to those with whom Bay Windows spoke, his initial response was less definitive.
"[H]e said right out, 'I haven't thought about that,' which means that he has not given a moment's thought to the thousands of children that are being raised in gay and lesbian households," said Hillary Goodridge. "And those are his constituents. Those are children of the Commonwealth. It's amazing."
The meeting came one day after the Wall Street Journal published a opinion piece by Romney in which he urged governors nationwide to enact laws prohibiting gay marriage in their own states, and strengthen such laws in states where they already exist.
The governor's office had previously not responded to a November request to meet with the seven Goodridge plaintiff couples. Renewing their efforts to meet after the Journal article was published, the group delivered yet another written request Feb. 5, which also elicited no response. After staging a press conference outside the governor's office Feb. 6, Romney invited the group into the corner office to speak with him.
Based on his statements, Bonauto, Hillary Goodridge and Wilson said they came away from the meeting questioning whether or not Romney was actually familiar with the Goodridge case, the Supreme Judicial Court's decision, and the ramifications of denying legal protections to gay families. "So sort of stepping back from it all ... for me anyway, it felt like he had not taken any time to understand the case, or the couples, or the issues that we have faced in trying to take care of each other and our families," said Wilson. "It just felt like he had not spent any time trying to understand that, so of course we end up in his office in front of him asking him pretty direct questions about interracial laws, the civil rights movement of the '60s, [Hillary and Julie's daughter] Annie. And his only fallback was 'man and woman, husband and wife, that's what constitutes a family.' So it was just - on so many levels - it was just so disappointing."
Ellen Wade, however, said that she believes the governor understands the ramifications of denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry, but his priorities lie elsewhere. "I think he just is not motivated by the human pain that he's causing," said Wade. "I don't think it deters him."
Neither Bonauto nor the plaintiffs is under the illusion that the governor's position in favor of a constitutional ban on gay marriage will change. But none of them characterized the meeting as a waste of time.
"I think it was important from our perspective that the governor actually finally face some real gay people who have everything to lose with this amendment and with his position," said Bonauto. "And I think it was fair to say to him, 'You're supposed to represent all the people of the Commonwealth, including the gay and lesbian people of the Commonwealth and you're not fulfilling your duty in that regard.'"
Laura Kiritsy is the Associate Editor at Bay Windows. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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