Kerry Dances as Legislature Meets

Democratic frontrunner has not yet spelled out stand on state constitutional amendment

“Senator Kerry is tip-toeing around both the state and federal marriage amendment, which I think is unfortunate, to say the least,” said Matt Foreman, leader of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). “Our position is that the Democratic nominee for president must be unequivocally opposed to state and federal constitutional amendments that seek to enshrine our second class citizenship.”

As several different amendments circulated among state legislators on Wednesday, the Kerry campaign remained mute, although a spokesperson said comment could come as early as Thursday.

But Kerry’s balletic maneuvering on proposed constitutional amendments, both in Washington and Boston, has been going on for weeks. In an interview with National Public Radio’s Michelle Norris on Monday, Kerry seemed to shrink away even from his long-standing opposition to a federal Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

“It depends entirely on the language of whether it permits civil union and partnership or not,” Kerry said of a possible amendment, but not saying which one, federal or state, he was referring to. “I’m for civil union. I’m for partnership rights. I think what ought to condition this debate is not the term marriage as much as the rights that people are afforded. I think the word marriage kind of gets in the way of the whole debate to be honest with you.”

In the same interview, Kerry said that even though he understands that marriage is both a civil and a religions institution, “…marriage to many people is obviously what is sanctified by a church. It’s sacramental.”

After that national airplay, Kerry’s campaign hit the streets with a press release, mainly directed at the gay press, reiterating the senator’s statement from last fall in which he said he opposes any federal constitutional amendment.

“But let’s be fair,” said gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, also from Massachusetts and a long-time supporter of Kerry. “I don’t think it’s reasonable for [the Democratic candidates] to be out for gay marriage. The people aren’t out for that.”

Asked about Kerry’s position on a potential state constitutional amendment, Frank argued that the debate is very fluid, that nobody knows what’s going to happen, and, reasonably, how could a senator and presidential candidate be for or against something that’s not defined?

But Frank and the entire Massachusetts House delegation are. On January 28, all ten of them, Democrats, led by Frank, wrote a letter to the Massachusetts legislature.

“We believe that a federal Constitutional amendment to this effect [to ban gay marriage] would be a mistake and we plan to vote against it. And we write to urge you to vote against any similar proposal which would amend our state’s Constitution to enact such prohibitions,” they wrote.

Marty Rouse, the campaign coordinator for MassEquality, the ad-hoc group organized to fight the amendment, said that he thinks Frank’s letter was a major head turner on Beacon Hill, called it “historic,” and argued the letter is even more significant because the Congressional delegation doesn’t usually get involved in state issues.

But why didn’t Massachusetts’ U.S. senators sign on too?

“It usually takes a senator a week and a half to tell you it’s raining,” Frank quipped. “I was in a hurry. I didn’t have time to get a signature out of a presidential candidate.” That, Frank joked, could take a year.

But Kerry’s colleague in the Senate, Edward Kennedy, stepped out right away in support of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling in the Goodrich case. He called it “a welcome new milestone on the road to full civil rights for all our citizens,” and said that nothing in the decision requires any church to accept same-sex marriages.

According to spokesperson David Smith, who used to work for the Human Rights Campaign, Kennedy opposes both the federal and the looming Massachusetts state amendment.

Why all the shilly shallying from Kerry? According to the NGLTF’s Foreman, Pres. George W. Bush and his allies are trying to paint Kerry as a classic Massachusetts liberal, just as Bush’s father did in 1988 with Michael Dukakis, the state’s governor at the time.

So, in a way, according to Foreman, it’s all about Willie Horton, the furloughed African American prisoner who beat a Maryland man and raped the man’s fiancée while out of jail due to a Dukakis prison policy and became the poster boy for the elder Bush’s attack on his opponent. It worked. Dukakis was defeated in a landslide.

“Fast forward to 2004 and it’s gay marriage,” said Foreman, who argued that Kerry, who served Dukakis as lieutenant governor, is trying to put as much air between himself and the gay marriage issue as he can.

But Foreman says predicts it will cost him in the end.

“The constitution of Massachusetts dates back to John Adams,” said Foreman. “To play with that kind of document is extreme. And, if I were Sen. Kerry, I would be concerned that in everything related to LGBT rights, you have to take a clear stand. Voters do not respond to obfuscation. On the contrary, your unclearness turns off voters more than any position.”

But wherever Kerry finally lands on the constitutional amendment issues, Joshua Friedes, of the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts, one of the groups working to stop the state amendment, said that whatever Kerry does, or however much distance he tries to put between himself and the gay marriage issue, “the gay community has to recognize that he’ll be better than George Bush, so let’s not eat our young.”

We also publish:

More from Around NYC