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TRAV-esty of Justice

When I found out that on January 2, the Massachusetts State Legislature voted to put marriage equality on the ballot, despite most predictions that it would be killed by procedural maneuvers, I was incensed. But that fury was nowhere near what I felt when I found out exactly how the vote went down in the State Legislature.

Sen. President Robert Travaglini first decided that he would use his power as Senate President force an up or down vote on the anti-same sex marriage amendment without debate, thus thwarting any procedural maneuvers that could have been made. Then, after this unspeakable slap in the face to the queer community, he moved to kill the health care amendment--through a procedural maneuver! What's worse, this unscrupulous man doesn't have an ounce of shame about his hypocrisy. According to blogger David Kravitz of Blue Mass Group, when Sen. Karen Spilka voted against the amendment's movement from committee, Travaglini arrogantly crowed, "Good girl." When I heard that, I was so angry, I could have spit fire.

Those who claim that their opposition to same-sex marriage was about "democracy" and letting the people vote should not be celebrating because, after all, the health care amendment was killed and the people were not allowed to vote on it. Surely they will be organizing protests and rallies demanding that we “let the people vote” and threatening to personally sue legislators for $5 million because the Legislature voted to put the amendment to committee. Oh, wait, they never were concerned about democracy in the first place! That was just a ruse to whip up anti-gay bigotry! So the bigots are celebrating and they subsequently withdrew their lawsuit against state legislators. Hypocrisy all around on January 2!

For those bright bulbs who claimed to support same-sex marriage while lecturing gay rights activists about how we should let the citizen initiative process run its course, because it's the "law" and the right "process," hopefully, the nature and reality of power has finally been unmasked. The only thing these worshippers of process did through their deification of rules and procedure was to provide rhetorical cover for those who opposed same-sex marriage. Charley Blandy of Blue Mass Group says we shouldn't blame these so-called “process liberals” and I don't blame them; I blame the bigots and homophobes.

But they should have known better, and I for one am furious that they fell for such a transparent political trap. First, they should have known that civil rights movements don’t operate on slavish devotion to law; they operate on moral and ethical principles. Sometimes, the execution of those principles requires breaking, bending and manipulating the law. Justice transcends the law, and if liberals can’t get that through their thick skulls, then we need to just pack up and go home because they don’t understand the basics of social movements--and they will continue sabotage our side with their hand-wringing quibbles about “process.”

Second, they perpetuated the absurd-on-its-face belief that the law and politics operate under abstract cause-and-effect principles detached from the reality on the ground or political context. They wanted people to believe that laws and processes themselves can protect the oppressed from abuse. “If we allow politicians to abuse the process, what’s to stop them from doing it to us?” they canted. The reality, now obvious to all, is that the law is routinely manipulated, flouted and ultimately bent to the whims of those in power. When a historically oppressed group has a viable opportunity to take power, they should do so without worrying about some insufferable magpies in the background chirping about “process.” The relationship between the law and power has been demonstrated so clearly and repeatedly in history that those who suggested otherwise are guilty of inexcusable ignorance.

If ACT UP or Queer Nation were still around, Travaglini, that sycophantic hypocrite, who kowtowed to the bigots, would have already been "zapped." And, quite frankly, I think making Travaglini a possible protest target would be a great future tactic for some queer and queer-friendly people in Boston. His decision to subject many gay and lesbian people to another year of uncertainty and angst, his legitimization of anti-gay rhetoric, and his emboldening of the right-wing in this state is unforgivable. Judging from editorial and blog reactions, people are absolutely livid about this blatant display of hypocrisy.

It's time to take off the gloves and put on the brass knuckles (figuratively). Just look at the tactics of the anti-gay lobby in this state. They went so far as to file a $5 million lawsuit against individual legislators who decided to recess until January 2. They did whatever it took to put pressure on legislators and create a climate where the legislators felt obligated to vote. If they're willing to do whatever it takes, why aren't we?

I’ve read a lot of bombastic “calls to arms” on the internet and blogosphere, but few people are proposing fresh tactics. Susan Ryan-Vollmar of Bay Windows says to write more letters to the editor and send more money to the major gay rights organizations in the state. She’s right, of course in that this would be a good thing to do. But I can’t help but feel as though this outrage calls for so much more than the same tactics. We need to assess ways in which dramatic displays of power and outrage by our community and its allies can be demonstrated. These tactics can include effective, targeted use of boycotts, civil disobedience (a mass “die in” on the steps of the State Legislature, for instance), angry rallies instead of Pollyannaish ones, organized heckling of anti-gay state legislators, so on and so forth.

Yes, now is the time for outrage. I think part of the problem is that people in this state don’t take us seriously because they have not truly heard the cry of the oppressed. We’ve had a lot of feel-good rallies and candlelight vigils. I think those are fine, but if those rallies are not backed up by some displays of power that show “we mean business,” politicians will get the message that they can screw us and all we’re going to do is sing “Kum-ba-ya” around the campfire.


Tom Lang said...


Mass Marrier said...

Well, I confess that I am in the screaming, lobbying camp. I want to see the amendment die, die, die this session.

Your analysis of those let-the-process-unfold folk is spot on. They have a truly bent sense of democracy and fairness.


Anonymous said...

The problem seems to be that white gay people think that they have joined the Respectable Americans club and don't want to make any noise for fear that they will be kicked back to where they were--outside with all the other minorities that the Gay Community (whatever that is or was) now doesn't feel any solidarity with. Guess what--we're still just faggots to them, and the sooner we realize it and don't fear rocking the boat and fighting for the rights of all oppressed people the better. Meanwhile those who are really in the club snicker at us behind our backs for our cowardice and gullibility as well they should.

Anonymous said...

QueerToday started off with direct action around the issue of marriage a few years ago: