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The bitter temperature and whipping wind did not stop approximately 3,000 people from converging on Boston Common Feb. 8 to show support for traditional marriage. Cold but energized by their cause, they repeatedly chanted, “Let the people vote!” hoping to convince legislators to support a proposed amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The day’s several speakers echoed a similar sentiment: The people of Massachusetts, not four unelected justices, should decide how marriage is defined in the Commonwealth. Before a constitutional amendment reaches the ballots for popular vote, it must pass two consecutive constitutional conventions, the first on Feb. 11. The earliest the amendment could appear on the ballot is 2006.
Four of the 12 original sponsors of the amendment spoke briefly at the rally and encouraged attendees to continue to put pressure on their representatives in the Legislature. The crowd received chief sponsor Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, with a loud round of applause, to which he answered with an exclamation of, “Let the people vote!”
"Stand behind your legislators. Make them accountable, and we will win on Wednesday," Travis told the rally-goers, referring to the Feb. 11 constitutional convention.
Former ambassador to the Vatican Raymond L. Flynn, president of the advocacy group Your Catholic Voice, organized the rally in conjunction with the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC) and the Marriage Coalition.
Addressing the crowd, Flynn compared the fight for traditional marriage to other movements that took root in the public gathering space that is Boston Common.
The fight to maintain the traditional definition of marriage is a movement of “recognition and respect for families, for marriage and for traditional values,” not one of discrimination or bigotry, Flynn stated.
"We cannot remain silent while judges change something in natural law," he continued.
Legislators must be held accountable to their constituents and allow the issue to be voted on by the people, he said. “If your elected officials take your right to vote away from you, you must take the privilege that they have away from them,” Flynn exclaimed.
He urged his fellow Catholics, a seldom outspoken voting bloc, to become reengaged in the political process.
Sandy Rios, president of Washington, D.C., based Concerned Women for America, had been in Boston for much of the week, lobbying legislators to approve the amendment on Feb. 11. Her address sparked a positive reaction from the crowd, many of whom were encouraged by her strong moral stance on marriage and homosexuality.
"To our homosexual friends, make no mistake -- the radicals around you want, not marriage, they want to eradicate marriage," she told the crowd.
She noted studies that show that where traditional marriage has been compromised, as in Scandinavian countries, the institution is not strengthened but weakened, resulting in dramatic increases in out of wedlock births and divorce.
Retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Joseph R. Nolan spoke briefly to say that, in his opinion as a retired justice, despite what the SJC’s Goodridge ruling says, there is “not a shred of evidence” in the state constitution that allows for same-sex marriage.
Archbishop O’Malley, who has been active in his support for traditional marriage, took the podium amidst signs and posters held by some same-sex marriage supporters in the crowd reading “Shame on you, O’Malley.”
"We are not here, as some people have characterized this as, for hate-mongering," the archbishop told the crowd in a strong voice. "We are here because we are concerned about marriage and about family ... good, strong marriage and family are good for our country, for society."
Though the legalization of same-sex marriage may not cause strong, loving marriages to fall apart, it will influence how marriage and family are thought of in the future, said Archbishop O’Malley.
"Ideas are very powerful, and the law teaches [ideas]," he said, noting that currently one-third of American children are born out of wedlock. "If we redefine marriage, I can predict to you that in 10 or 20 years many more children will be born out of wedlock, many more divorces will take place, fewer people will be getting married because we will have weakened the institution of marriage. We need to strengthen marriage -- that's why we are here."
Archbishop O’Malley went on to read a statement in support of traditional marriage jointly issued by the leaders of over 3,000 Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Muslim congregations in Massachusetts. The leaders urged Senate President Robert Travaglini, D-Boston, to take up the vote for the marriage amendment on Feb. 11 as scheduled.
The statement warned that “the court’s decision will harm our children, who are entitled to be able to count on their parents’ marriages as the secure foundation of their family lives.”
"The court's re-definition of marriage explicitly divorces the institution of marriage from the procreation and education of children," Archbishop O'Malley said, reading from the statement. "Despite the experience of all human cultures and the empirical data of sociological studies, the court ignores the fact that the stable, permanent relationship of a husband and wife is the optimal basis for child rearing."
Nearing the conclusion of the rally, Massachusetts state deputy of the Knights of Columbus Thomas Ledbetter presented leaders of the fight to save traditional marriage with a check for $25,000 to aid their efforts. Ledbetter promised an additional $25,000 to the marriage campaign in the coming week.
Also addressing the crowd was former state Attorney General Robert Quinn, WROL radio talk-show host Don Feder, Massachusetts Family Institute president Ronald A. Crews and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins. Massachusetts chairman of Your Catholic Voice Philip Moran moderated the event.
Catholics and non-Catholics from across the state and beyond met in front of the Statehouse for the two-hour rally. Meanwhile, about 400 same-sex marriage proponents held a counter-rally on the steps of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral opposite the Common, holding signs and waving rainbow flags.
Audrey Oliver, parishioner at St. Tarcisius Parish in Framingham, attended the rally because of her “strong belief” in traditional marriage, she said, not out of “hate” for homosexuals.
"It wasn't fair that four judges decided what is right for the citizenry of Massachusetts," said Oliver, who has been contacting her representatives urging them to support the marriage amendment. "I'm hoping it pays off ... hoping they will listen to their constituents."
Debbie Papalia of North Andover, who attended the rally with her husband and their two young children, also sees the urgency in showing the strength of the pro-marriage corner. She, too, has contacted her legislators and the Senate President through telephone calls and emails. She has also called in to local talk radio programs to speak about upholding traditional marriage.
"It is a crucial time," said Papalia, who has stepped-up her efforts in the past month. "Now is the time to act."