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MIT Voices Opinions About Gay Marriage

By Kathy Dobson


As an amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and establish civil unions was approved by the legislature yesterday, students, faculty, staff and community groups expressed a variety of opinions and reactions on the same-sex marriage debate.

The question of whether marriage, historically sanctioned by the state as between a man and woman, can and should include couples of the same sex has become one of the most contested nationwide social issues in recent history.

The fundamental dilemmas being raised in the Massachusetts legislature inspired some student groups, such as GaMIT and MIT Queer Women’s Group, to mobilize members of the MIT community to protest the same-sex marriage ban amendment.

Nationwide, however, supporters of same-sex marriage have been in the minority, according to polls in The Economist. Other MIT groups, such as the Tech Catholic Community, hold strong beliefs that same-sex marriage or unions should not be allowed.

The legalization of same-sex marriage by the Massachusetts Supreme Court before this recent action by the legislature, and the resulting debate and proposed amendment, has encouraged some to accelerate their marriage plans, and has aroused feelings of frustration and fear among others.

More than marriage is debated

Professor of Economics Michael J. Piore, sees similarities between the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the rights movement for homosexuals today. “I was in the black civil rights movement,” said Piore, who is white. “I was in the south, I worked in the south,” he said, and “the barriers that one faced being black are different but the hate ... the notion of heterosexual supremacy, exclusivity ... is exactly what white supremacy was like in the south.”

“We see it as a human rights, a civil rights issue,” said Gregory D. Dennis G, president of MIT Greens.

“Minority rights should not be decided by majority rule,” said Anne M. Pollock G, the president of MIT Queer Women’s Group .

Allen Rabinovich ’04, president of GAMIT, said that GAMIT agrees with this view. “Officially, as GAMIT, we oppose any kind of restrictive amendments, we think that it’s not up to [the legislators] to write any discrimination into the constitution.”

Nicole L. Ackerman ’06, a GAMIT officer, said that she saw similarities between the interracial marriage debate in the 1950s and same-sex marriage today. “Interracial marriage --it was the same sort of thing, well, you can still marry someone but just someone of the same race.”

Benjamin R. Wagner ’05, also a GAMIT officer, said that the issue was not about marriage. “I don’t care at all about marriage,” he said, “I care about discrimination.”

Issue inspires LBGT activism

Thomas Robinson, program coordinator for Student Life Programs, said that he has seen a variety of reactions from lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered (LBGT) students about the debate, ranging from disinterest to feelings of being overwhelmed to feelings of mobilization.

Karla N. Solheim G said that the same-sex marriage has made her become more proactive in politics. “I can’t say I was involved until the gay marriage issue came up and that made me angry,” she said.

Last semester, GAMIT collected signatures for a Freedom to Marry Coalition petition and this semester, the group held a postcard campaign. Ackerman said that as a result of the campaign, close to 400 members of the MIT community sent postcards to state senators and representatives protesting a same-sex marriage ban amendment.

Robert C. Jagnow G said he was never really officially involved in gay support groups until the same-sex marriage debate, and attended the last two constitutional convention sessions. “I really feel mobilized. A constitutional amendment is absolutely taking my rights away,” he said.

Other political and religious groups had a variety of reactions.

“The Green party is unequivocally in favor of gay marriage,” Dennis said. “We are opposed to any constitutional amendment to limit marriage between one man and one woman.”

Adam J. Nolte G, president of the Tech Catholic Community, said that the TCC is bound by the Catholic Church’s teachings. “While I can’t speak personally for everyone in the Catholic community as to their individual beliefs on this matter, in as much as TCC is a Catholic organization, we are bound to share our views of faith and morals with the universal church ... we can’t condone homosexual marriages or unions.”

Some seek marriage as statement

William A. Fregosi, a technical coordinator in music and theatre arts, is planning on marrying his partner of almost seven years this August. Although he said that he and his partner want to do this for personal reasons, he also said he has political motivations. “For political reasons, if no other, everybody should do this,” Fregosi said.

Fregosi also said that he and his partner are ready to move up the date of their wedding in case the Massachusetts executive branch attempts to block gay marriages after they become legal on May 17.

Carol Matsuzaki, an assistant professor and head coach for the women’s tennis team, said that she would not rush into marriage because of the ruling, however. “It would be great if the ruling came through,” she said before the legislature approved the amendment yesterday, but she and her partner “shouldn’t do something if we’re not ready for it.”

Debate over more than words

According to The Boston Globe, the amendment that was approved yesterday bans same-sex marriages but establishes civil unions between two people of the same sex.

Although the amendment states that civil unions will have the same rights in Massachusetts as marriages, civil unions still have limitations under federal law. According to Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), civil unions do not receive federal or public benefits, such as social security benefits, immigration sponsorship, and pension protection, states are not legally required to recognize civil unions from other states, and a couple with a civil union can not jointly file their federal taxes.

Robinson estimated that a Vermont civil union currently grants about 300 rights, while a marriage grants about 1100 rights. The GLAD web site states: “According to a 1997 GAO report, civil marriage brings with it at least 1,049 legal protections and responsibilities from the federal government.”

Robinson argues that even naming marriages between two people of the same sex something different would still be worth debating. “Even if it was just a word debate, it is still a valuable one,” he said.

Marriages legal in May

Even though the amendment banning same-sex marriage was approved yesterday, marriages between two people of the same sex will still become legal on May 17 of this year.

The earliest that same-sex marriages could become illegal is November of 2006. The amendment must be approved again by a majority of the legislatures at the next consecutive legislative session, and if approved there a second time, the question would go to the voters. If a majority of the voters approve the amendment, then the amendment will be added to the Massachusetts Constitution.

There is a bit of ambiguity as to what will happen to couples who decide to get married after May 17 if the amendment gets final approval.

Charles P. Kindregan, Jr, a professor at Suffolk University Law School who has been teaching family law for 37 years, said that he believes the marriages would be valid even if the amendment eventually passes. “Never in the entire legal history has the legislature revoked anyone’s marriage.”

The amendment “would be prospective, not retroactive,” Kindregan said.

If the amendment does not pass, however, Kindregan said that it would put same-sex couples in a “very odd position” of being recognized by the state but not federally. The federal Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996 and signed by Bill Clinton, says that no state is required to recognize marriage, or its equivalent, between two people of the same sex.

Other states also have their own defense of marriage acts, which similarly define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. “Are they constitutional?” Kindregan asks, “I have my real doubts about that.”