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In Mass., joy, caution, and condemnation

'I'm sure that part of it's a [number] crunch. But maybe he thinks it's the right thing to do,' said Robin Jones of Beacon Hill. "I'm sure that part of it's a [number] crunch. But maybe he thinks it's the right thing to do," said Robin Jones of Beacon Hill.
By Martine Powers
Globe Staff / May 10, 2012
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For Kara Suffredini, executive director of MassEquality, President Obama’s announcement in support of gay marriage on Wednesday was a cause for celebration - and pride.

“There’s no question that the work we did here so many years ago really laid the foundation for America’s evolution on this issue,’’ Suffredini said.

Obama’s announcement Wednesday in an interview on ABC News was received with particular poignancy by advocates and opponents of gay marriage in the state that first legalized same-sex marriages in 2004.

The president’s declaration, Suffredini said, may be one of the most important moments yet for gay-rights advocates.

“It’s hard to imagine anything more significant to the marriage equality movement than the most powerful leader in the world declaring his support for equal rights for LGBT people,’’ she said.

For others, the news was nothing to celebrate.

“Clearly today’s news makes it even more important that we continue our efforts to preserve the sanctity of marriage as defined as between one man and one woman,’’ Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, said in a statement. “Catholic teaching is very clear on this.’’

Mary Bonauto, a lawyer for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who argued the 2004 same-sex marriage case in Massachusetts, was moderated in her pleasure at Obama’s pronouncement.

“A statement doesn’t change laws - but having said that, changing attitudes changes laws.’’

The journey to acceptance of same-sex marriage that Obama described Wednesday, Bonauto said, was the same journey that many Massachusetts residents experienced just a few years before.

“Massachusetts led the way, there’s no doubt about that,’’ Bonauto said.

But, Bonauto said, Obama’s pronouncement is not a magic bullet for gay-marriage advocates.

“We still live in a country where gay people can only marry in six states and the District of Columbia,’’ Bonauto said. “There’s still an enormous edifice of discrimination against same-sex couples.’’

Others were more emotional: “I’m fielding phone calls from people who are in tears,’’ said Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. “They’re crying they’re so happy.’’

Senator Scott Brown, a Republican who opposed gay marriage when he was in the Massachusetts Legislature, said in a statement that gay marriage is “settled law’’ in Massachusetts and should be decided by the states rather than the federal government.

Elizabeth Warren, Brown’s leading Democratic opponent, has been courting the gay and lesbian community by advocating aggressively for gay marriage. She said on Twitter: “Proud to stand with our President in support of marriage equality. Thank you.’’

Governor Deval Patrick issued a statement applauding Obama for affirming that gay people across the country should receive the same access to health care benefits and hospital visitation rights that they do in Massachusetts.

“The President’s words today give same-sex couples across the country still awaiting those rights a powerful reason to feel hopeful,’’ Patrick said.

Former Boston mayor Ray Flynn, an opponent of gay marriage, said he was glad Obama was being honest about his views on same-sex marriage before the election.

“I’m glad he made it clear,’’ Flynn said. “I wouldn’t take that position, I’d take the opposite position myself, but I’d be straightforward and direct and let people vote accordingly.’’

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, an advocacy group that is opposed to gay marriage, said he believes Obama’s professed shift in attitude toward gay marriage has been disingenuous.

“He has gone from supporting the redefinition of marriage in 1996 as a candidate for state senate, to opposing same-sex marriage as a candidate for both US Senate in 2004 and President in 2008, to now once again supporting it in 2012,’’ Mineau said in a statement.

“The president is the ultimate flip-flop-flipper,’’ Mineau also said. “How many flips does Mr. Obama get on this issue?’’

Mineau said he believes Obama has decided to express his support of same-sex marriage in an effort to curry favor with wealthy donors within the gay community. He said Tuesday’s vote in North Carolina to prohibit same-sex marriage demonstrates that public opinion is not in the president’s favor.

Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, a legal organization that works to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, said she anticipates that the president’s pronouncement will “lead to more conversations about the issue.’’

Swislow said Obama’s shifting position on same-sex marriage mirrors the evolution of attitudes toward same-sex marriage across the country.

“He’s the president, but he’s also a citizen like so many other citizens in this country who have thought deeply about this issue and come through their own personal journey, and have come to support marriage equality,’’ Swislow said. “It’s fantastic.’’

Passersby braving a rainy Boston Common on Wednesday afternoon had mixed opinions on the pronouncement, and some wondered about the president’s motives.

“Thank God,’’ said Robin Jones of Beacon Hill, 55, when informed of Obama’s support.

Still, she suspected his statement may have come out after he examined poll numbers on the issue.

“I’m sure that part of it’s a [number] crunch,’’ Jones said. “But maybe he thinks it’s the right thing to do.’’

Gary Crowell, 58, who was visiting Boston from Boise, Idaho, expressed initial skepticism about same-sex marriage, saying “It doesn’t necessarily need to be.’’ But his greater concern, he said, was a gay couple’s ability to adopt children.

A Cambridge man who would only give his first name, Gustavo, said that as a gay man, he was pleased to learn of Obama’s shift in attitude. He said he would like to marry some day - hopefully in Massachusetts, because of its history as the first state to make that possible for him.

“If I find somebody that I love . . . this is the best place to do it,’’ he said.

Martin Koski, 69, first heard the news on his car radio.

“All I could say was, ‘Wow,’ ’’ said Koski, 69, a retired federal employee who lives on Cape Cod. He became a plaintiff in a case opposing the Defense of Marriage Act after his husband was not allowed to receive federal benefits.

While he’s concerned about how the statement will affect the president’s reelection bid, Koski said he is glad the president spoke out. “Things seem to be going in the right direction, as far as I’m concerned.’’

Noah Bierman and Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.

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