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Fear and then, 'I can't believe it'

Gay activists jubilant after the quick vote

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Staff / June 15, 2007
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Shortly after legislators filed into the House Chamber for yesterday's constitutional convention, several dozen people stood outside, anxiously waiting.

Would there be a vote? When would it come?

Answers came minutes later, when gay-rights activist Alexander Westerhoff, who had been watching the proceedings on a monitor, suddenly burst into view outside the chamber, unfurling a banner that read "Victory! Love wins!"

The crowd, mostly supporters of same-sex marriage, let out an enormous cheer; people fell into one another's arms, some crying. They exclaimed "Oh my God!" and "I can't believe it," and deafening cheers echoed in the marble halls.

Euphoric same-sex marriage supporters rushed out of the public gallery, arms raised in victory, and then grinning legislators emerged, to ear-splitting applause. Activists yelled "Thank you!" from above.

Many of the men and women gathered at the State House yesterday -- veterans of previous constitutional conventions that dragged on for hours, or ended before votes were taken -- seemed caught by surprise at the speed of yesterday's events.

Nicole Kent and Yennie Vannavong arrived at the State House just three minutes before the vote was done.

"It was really fast!" said Kent, on Boston Common after the vote with her son Alex, 5.

"We thought we'd have to be out there all night," said Vannavong.

Before yesterday's vote, the couple had planned an August wedding at City Hall, worried that the amendment would make it onto the 2008 ballot and ultimately be approved by voters. Now, they said, they would take their time, and plan a nice wedding in a chapel with family and friends. "A real big one, like everybody else," Kent said.

Those who had come to support the amendment receded from the State House immediately after the vote. They gathered by a wall on the fourth floor after the vote, mostly stunned, sad-faced, and silent. They went outside to join protesters on the street. They waited for buses home.

"Despite today's vote, we're not discouraged," said Jonathan Ring, who led a group from Essex County who supported the amendment. "It was always a long shot, but in this process we've been able to bring out our grass roots and get a dialogue going."

An hour or so earlier, Ring and his group had been far more optimistic, as they gathered in a circle, eyes closed in prayer.

"This is your day, you are Lord," said Doug Macdougal, palms raised. "The battle line of the universe goes through the State House today. May your will be done. Make sure these legislators know they will be held eternally accountable for their decisions today."

As they prayed, Arline Isaacson , the lobbyist who led the effort against the amendment, passed a nearby group of same-sex marriage supporters who sent up a huge cheer, drowning out Macdougal.

The two sides were far less acrimonious than they have been during previous battles on Beacon Hill, though police did have to break up a scuffle on Beacon Street at one point. Police arrested a supporter of the amendment, Diane Steele, 52, of Richmond, after she allegedly got into an argument with and slapped an activist who supports same-sex marriage.

Many in the crowd were veterans of numerous constitutional conventions, and those on both sides said they thought the battle would be over long ago.

George Clattenburg said he had lost count of how many times he had been to the State House to lobby for gay rights since the mid-1980s.

"My wife and I have six children, and two happen to be gay," said Clattenburg, 74, standing on Beacon Street in support of same-sex marriage before the vote. "I just feel our gay kids should have the same rights as our other kids."

"When same-sex marriage was approved, I thought I was done with this and I could get on with my life," he said. "But it's only a matter of time before people realize how my daughter lives her life is no different from the way my wife and I live our lives."

The amendment's supporters were far less numerous yesterday than they had been in previous years. They were outnumbered in the State House hallways, in the overflow crowd at the Gardner Auditorium, and on Beacon Street, where stacks of their green signs lay unused.

After the vote, Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, gave words of encouragement to supporters of the amendment, while across the street Governor Deval Patrick addressed gay-marriage supporters, speaking into a bullhorn.

"The folks across the street, they are your brothers and sisters, too," Patrick said to cheers.

Some of the amendment's supporters booed and chanted, "We're not going to go away!"

Several said yesterday's vote did not reflect the will of the people and that legislators who supported the amendment had been pressured by local and national politicians to vote against their consciences.

"We expected a close call, but all this arm-twisting, and maneuvering, some people were forced to cave," said Doris Toohill, 73, of Orleans.

Toohill, like some others, vowed to regroup, collect more signatures, and start the ballot battle anew.

"It's not over," she said.

Globe Correspondent April Yee contributed to this story.

From Today's Globe
 Right of gays to marry set for years to come (By Frank Phillips and Andrea Estes, Globe Staff, 6/15/07)
 Personal stories changed minds (By Lisa Wangsness and Andrea Estes, Globe Staff, 6/15/07)
 Fear and then, 'I can't believe it' (By Yvonne Abraham, Globe Staff, 6/15/07)
 Mass. may inspire advocates in other states to action (By Raja Mishra, Globe Staff, 6/15/07)
 GLOBE EDITORIAL: A good day for marriage
 SCOT LEHIGH: A victory for equality
 JEFF JACOBY | WEB EXCLUSIVE: A political grenade
 DERRICK Z. JACKSON | WEB EXCLUSIVE: Ring the wedding bells
Other coverage
Photo Gallery PHOTO GALLERIES: Reaction to the vote Photo Gallery Protesters
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