The good fight
by Dinah Cardin - Staff Writer
North Shore Sunday
Friday, March 26, 2004

Bob Murch shared his articulate message and energy last week at a rally in Salem, hosted by Mass Equality, the coalition leading the gay-marriage fight.

The meeting was meant to unite the North Shore gay and lesbian community to participate in the organization's state-wide effort to educate potential voters about same-sex marriage. The idea was to generate a group of volunteers to gather signatures from people on busy sidewalks throughout 14 House districts and three Senate districts.

At Thursday's rally in the Unitarian Church on Bridge Street, Murch shared with about 20 people – young and old, male and female, gay and straight - his interaction and conversations with various legislators. The group examined each local legislator, sizing up their voting records, their motives and their level of cooperation to oppose any amendment to the state constitution that would make same-sex couples separate and unequal.

Legislators are trained to find the middle ground, which is civil unions, the group lamented, saying that's why they need to convince them that now is the time to choose and be remembered for their bravery throughout history.

"If you are grappling so much, maybe this isn't something you should be doing," Murch said of the legislators.

Joanne Frustaci, a stay-at-home mom in a lesbian couple from Burlington and volunteer coordinator with the organization, said Mass Equality is meeting with people all over the state to mobilize its effort.

"Every vote to amend the constitution is a vote to dissolve my marriage license in 2006," she said.

Civil unions are nothing but a "radical social experiment" she says, that is simply invalid outside state borders. One may be recognized in Salem, she says, but once someone has an accident in Nashua, all rights go out the window.

"Their mom will be contacted. You won't. She'll tell you, if you're lucky," she said. "It's a few of the benefits, only in some of the places, in only two states in the country."

Frustraci explained how survivor benefits are just one of many that will directly affect her and others like her. Someone's social security that they've paid into their whole life goes to a straight family, she says, rather than to his or her partner.

One man said simple guilt had brought him out to the meeting.

"I haven't been doing my share to help advance this necessary cause," said Joe Wamness of Malden. "It's time for us to all do our part to help educate people."

A good-looking young man from Marblehead said this wasn't the first time he had volunteered with the group, to show his support at the State House.

Though she was a little nervous to gather signatures, for fear of being offended or saying too much, Sharon Driscoll of Salem said she was supporting her gay brother, who has long been in a committed relationship.

"I think it would make the world a better place if we were all equal," she said.

The group discussed resisting the temptation to profile when gathering signatures, since you can't always determine a person's politics by just looking at them.

Gavi Wolfe, the organization's public education director, said that in East Boston and Southie, two places notoriously least likely to support this issue, he has found many willing supporters who want to sign on and hear about the group's mission.

Emily Sherwood, who worked for many years in the State House, encouraged fellow volunteers to get personal handwritten notes from those on the street, telling them the notes truly make a difference.

Sherwood, who has been in a relationship for 22 years and lives in Lynn, says until recently, she never worried about phrases like "survivor benefits."

"We've built a life together and are committed to each other," she said. "We want the protection that families have. I'm grateful to the SJC for recognizing my common humanity. I'm fighting for my rights."

Her partner, Ruth Davidson, a marketing consultant, says she never let herself  be discriminated against, but instead, just "took care of it" by being open about it. Until recently, she also never thought much about getting married.

"Then when I read that Supreme Court decision, I shook. I literally was shaking from heard to toe," she said. "(Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice) Margaret Marshall, she's saying I'm as good as everyone else. And suddenly it mattered. All of a sudden someone was saying I have a right to everything everyone else has."

The group plans to meet again at the same location in Salem on April 13, after the Constitutional Convention dismisses, one way or another.

"Whatever happens, we'll need to keep working," said Wolfe.

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