Shame On Jane?
BY BETH BERLO | APRIL 19, 2001
Bay Windows staff
Acting Gov. Jane M. Swift was barely in office 24 hours after taking over for former Gov. Paul Cellucci before announcing that she would not support gay marriages -- a hasty declaration that has since set off a tidal wave of criticism and disappointment amongst many in the gay community.
The issue "is not on my radar screen," she told a Boston Herald reporter, where the story first appeared.
"I don't believe in extending marriage benefits to same-sex couples," Swift told the Herald. "I'm not even sure there are any civil-union bills floating around. There won't be one coming from me."
In an unrelated development, a lawsuit was filed against the Department of Public Health by seven Massachusetts gay and lesbian couples after the DPH blocked them from seeking marriage licenses.
Massachusetts state Sen. Cheryl Jacques called Swift's announcement "shameful," noting that it was the acting governor's "first 24 hours on the job, and her first act was to come out against gay families and their children? Rather than starting on a positive note and an inclusive and pro-family note, she came out against certain families in this state. I would expect better from Jane."
Swift, who's in a late-term pregnancy with twins, and who has one child at home, ruffled the feathers of several Boston area legal activists and politicians, including Mary Bonauto, civil rights director at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), with her announcement. GLAD is representing the seven Massachusetts couples in the lawsuit against the DPH.
Bonauto called Swift's announcement "unfortunate," adding that "I think she and many people in Massachusetts share a lot in common. Many people are busy in their jobs and volunteering in their communities. There's much more that unites us than divides us."
Mark Merante, board member with the Bay State Stonewall Democrats, said that if Swift is elected next year, "We're going to have no movement on domestic partnership, civil unions, or civil-marriage rights until 2007 and it's just not acceptable. It re-commits me to getting involved in next year's elections and electing people who are looking forward and not back into the Reagan era."
While many in the community were stunned at Swift's announcement, others like Barbara Hoffman, co-chair of the Bay State Stonewall Democrats, say they're not surprised. "Republicans have generally not been welcoming to the GLBT community," Hoffman said. "But I think it's really unfortunate that Jane Swift is so far behind the times. I expected that as a young woman, she would be more in touch with the changing times. I suppose the Log Cabin Republicans will try to make lemonade out of this, but they spend most of their time trying to defend the indefensible, anyway."
Log Cabin says Dems aren't much better
But Mark Goshko, former president of Massachusetts Log Cabin Republicans and current member of the national group, has little patience for remarks like these, despite the fact they are frequently fired at him and at Log Cabin members in general. "How can anyone single [Swift's] position out, and our support for her as being any different from any other groups who support Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy?," Goshko asks. "They all have the same position on the issue."
"Do I support gay marriage?" Goshko asks. "Yeah. Would I like [Swift] to support it? Yeah. I would also like to ask the question, `When Bill Clinton enacted the `Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, wouldn't it have been smart for activists working with his administration to take their balls and go home? Would it have been smart, or a good strategy in any way to say, `Look, you weren't with us, so we're not going to work with you at all.'"
"It's funny," Goshko says, "I have a feeling that some of these people are either being disingenuous or surprisingly out of touch, in that they think there's a body of support among office holders out there who support gay marriage."
With Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, Goshko says in an embittered tone, they have both come out equivocally against same-sexmarriage. "Jane Swift," he said, "would have absolutely broken new ground and set a new national standard had she taken a new contrary position."
Still, marriage promoters like the Freedom to Marry Coalition (FTMC) think Swift needs more education around the issue. "Marriage is a fundamental right and a constitutional right," said Joshua Friedes, volunteer political director for FTMC. "We will not be equal as individuals until we have our fundamental rights."
But even some liberal gay activists say they empathize and understand Swift's action. When people say they support gay rights, but not civil marriage between two same-sex people, Friedes said that it constitutes basic notions of equality that are imbedded in both the Massachusetts and federal constitutions. "I think all too often people confuse religious marriage, which has no legal benefits, with civil marriage, which comes with hundreds of legal rights," Friedes said. In addition, he adds, "I think a lot of the problem, when you hear gays and lesbians voicing understanding for people like Gov. Jane Swift, it's because they themselves are uneducated as to the legal rights associated with civil marriage."
Earlier this year, state Rep. John Rogers, D-Norwood, introduced his second Defense of Marriage Act. This bill defines marriage as between one man and one woman and prohibits any kind of benefits of marriage to any other type of relationship.
The domestic partnership bill creates what Friedes describes as a "bizarre" situation in that the spouse of a public sector employee would be able to get health insurance through their partner, but the public sector employee would not have the legal rights to visit their partner in the hospital or make medical decisions for them should they become incapacitated.
If anyone's optimistic about Swift and her current position on gay marriage, it's Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. "I'm a bit disappointed by her initial reaction -- but on the other hand, I remain hopeful," she said. "I strongly believe that Jane Swift is fundamentally fair and open-minded. I genuinely believe that she is the kind of governor we can talk to. She can be conservative on some matters, but on the other hand, she supported gay and lesbian issues way back in the mid-1990s when she first came into office. Historically, she's been pretty decent on our issues."
Isaacson said this was a first for Swift in that she had "never risen to the level of being an opponent. Based on that, I remain hopeful that, despite what she said, she will at least listen to our arguments. She's not close-minded. The issue never came up before. It's never risen to the seriousness as it has now."
Jacques is not holding her breath. "I think she's attempting to appeal to the worst of her party -- the Jesse Helmses -- just to appease them," she said. "Gay citizens and their children are second class citizens [to Swift] and they are somehow just not deserving. Shame on Jane."