The Boston Progressive - Under The Fold

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

"Has your signature been stolen?"

"Has your signature been stolen?"

This is a question that I heard when I picked up the receiver in response to the ring.

This seemed an odd question to open a telephone call with, but very quickly became obviously relevant.

It was about the anti-gay marriage petition people.

Again.

Even prior to the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling (in 2003) that the prohibitions against same-sex marriage were contrary to the state Constitution, there were initiative petitions being offered that would restrict access to civil unions, petitions to restrict redress in the event of discrimination in hiring or access to housing, or workplace discrimination or harassment, or ability to adopt children, including an initiative petition in 2001 that sought to ban same-sex marriage.

In Massachusetts the initiative petition is a process that enables citizens to put proposed laws for enactment by the legislature, or amendments to the state Constitution to a vote of the Commonwealth's citizens as a whole. (* see below for a description of the initiative petition process in Massachusetts)

In November of 2003 the Massachusetts State Supreme Court (Goodridge v. Department of Public Health) ruled that the laws in the Commonwealth that banned same-sex marriage were against the Massachusetts State Constitution, and directed the state legislature to compose laws that incorporated civil marriage by members of the same sex. In 2004 the legislature attempted to satisfy that requirement by drafting "civil unions." The state Supreme Court said, in effect, "we *said* marriage, not civil unions, and we *meant* marriage."

Since then, in addition to local, in-state groups, there have been out-of-state groups that have come to Massachusetts, "founding" local chapters and representing themselves to the public as home-grown "grass-roots" organizations (a tactic that Theresa Nielson-Hayden terms "astroturfing" - for fake grass-roots). This is a tactic that we have seen in a number of states in order to push for restrictions of gay rights in those states (I suppose the people in those states don't really know what should be the "proper" priorities).

Because of the ruling that the prior laws were contrary to the state Constitution, the only way to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts will be to change the state Constitution itself. (** see below for background). The Constitutional Convention that Governor Mitt Romney called didn't do the trick, so the opponents decided to go the initiative Petition route.

Which brings us to the phone call.

It appears that the originators of the initiative petition (The Massachusetts Family Institute - MFI) have engaged the services of paid signature gatherers, who appear to have been paid by the signature (at $1/each), and that at least some of these signature gatherers have been pulling a "bait and switch" on some voters. Signatures are being collect for some 14 initiative petitions right now. In addition to the anti-gay marriage petition is one to allow for expanded beer and wine sales in supermarkets. Some of the paid signature gatherers for the anti-gay marriage group have been asking voters to sign the petition about beer and wine sales, and asking voters to also sign a "backup copy" of the petition. However, the "backup copy" was really the petition for the MFI's restrictive amendment. And there are a number of people who were very surprised to find their names listed as signers. Our better half among them, as we found out when we looked at the website that detailed all the signers of the petition.

This is, unfortunately, not a new tactic -- the same thing happened when the anti-gay marriage coalition took the initiative path in 2001, only then the "bait" was petitions for care of race horses sand greyhounds.

According to published news reports, the complaints about fraud range from the "backup copy" claim to a collector claiming the petition was in support of gay rights to one where a woman says it appears that her name was copied from another petition. And these are just from those where the same name appears on both the beer-&-wine and anti-gay marriage amendment.

From the 12/05/06 Bay Windows: 'I don't know how it happened'
[Joseph Kennedy, of Saugus]After speaking with MassEquality, which has been calling through a list of people who signed both the marriage petition and a petition to allow grocery stories to sell wine, Kennedy realized that he had been deceived by a petition signature gatherer he had met about two months ago at Shaws supermarket in Saugus. He said the petition gatherer, a young woman, first asked if he would sign a petition to permit the sale of beer and wine in supermarkets. He agreed, and then she asked if he would sign a second petition.

They said the other one was in favor of giving equal rights to men and women and is for gay marriage, and I said fine," said Kennedy.
//snip//
When Shaune Barry of Shrewsbury got a call from MassEquality saying her name was on the list of signers she was disappointed but not surprised. Months prior at the Stop & Shop in Westborough Barry was approached by a petition gatherer who, as with Kennedy, said she was collecting signatures for the wine petition. Barry agreed to sign it. "I signed one petition, [and] she said, 'Can you sign another petition for our other store in Westborough?'" said Barry

It sounded like a harmless enough request, and she signed without reading the second petition.

In talking about the petition afterwards with her brother, who is gay and an active member of the Human Rights Campaign, he warned her that she may have been tricked into signing the marriage petition. The call from MassEquality confirmed it.
//snip//
When Victoria Ellis of Somerville got a call from MassEquality saying she was on the list of signers, she was disgusted.

In October she had had a confrontation with a signature collector outside the Target in Somerville who she said tried to trick her into signing the marriage petition. Like Kennedy and Barry she said she was lured in by the wine petition, and after she signed it the petition gatherer asked her to sign a "back-up copy". When she read the so-called copy, she discovered it was in fact the marriage petition. Enraged, she tore the petition from the clipboard and walked off with it, warning some other signers to read the "back-up copy" before signing as she left.

Since the marriage petition she signed was in her own possession, she was disturbed to find her name on the list of signers. "I don't know how it happened, but I suspect that they just transferred my name from one [petition] to the other... I think my first [reaction to finding out my name was on the petition] was, 'You're kidding,' because after testifying and all of that, how is that even possible?" said Ellis.

"It's really audacious for somebody to do this. I'm disgusted

Marc Solomon, campaign director for MassEquality, said those stories are not unique. Since the petition drive began last September, MassEquality and other opponents of the petition accused paid signature gatherers of using the wine petition to fool voters into signing the marriage petition by using "bait and switch" tactics and other schemes. Solomon said volunteers spoke with hundreds of signers of both petitions by phone, assuming those names were the most likely to be fraudulent, and discovered many instances of fraud. Through their calls, Solomon said, they had even discovered an instance of a dead person's signature on the petition, though he declined to provide details to confirm the claim.
And what is the reaction of MFI to these reports?
Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute and the leader of the VoteOnMarriage.org coalition, said he was skeptical of the fraud claims brought forward by citizens like Kennedy, Barry and Ellis. He claimed that all the signatures were verified by city and town clerks around the state, even though the only check those clerks perform is to make sure all the names correspond to registered voters. He also said he found it hard to believe so many people would sign their name to a petition that they have not read carefully. More likely, he said, was that MassEquality and marriage advocates somehow coordinated a campaign to have their supporters sign the petition so they could later accuse VoteOnMarriage.org of signature fraud.

"It's not unlikely that there were people signing the petition initially to claim fraud," said Mineau.
As noted,the clerks in the various town halls do not "certify" that the people whose signatures appeared on the petitions were the actual *signers.* What the clerks "certify" is that the name and address appears on the voters' rolls for that city.

However, considering the sheer number of signatures collected, and that the percentage of voters required to get a petition to the legislature (0.05% of the total votes cast in the most prior regular election for Governor) MassEquality has decided not to attempt to get the petition decertified, but will instead concentrate on publicizing the fraud, in order to highlight the ethics of the groups behind this petition.

By the way, the "Massachusetts Coalition for Marriage and Family" is comprised of the following groups (I really wonder at the vision of some of these groups being in bed with the others) :

  • Alliance Defense Fund

  • Focus on the Family

  • Massachusetts Family Institute

  • Catholic Citizenship

  • Family Research Council

  • Massachusetts Catholic Conference

  • Catholic Action League of Massachusetts

  • COPAHNI Fellowship of Hispanic Pastors of New England

  • Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation

  • Massachusetts State Council - Knights of Columbus

  • Natural Rights and Laws Compact

  • United Family International

  • Center for Reclaiming America

  • Institute for Family Development

  • Massachusetts Citizens for Life

  • Morality in Media Massachusetts

  • Toward Tradition

  • Vision America

  • --------------------------------------------------------
    * For a non-Constitutional initiative, the process is pretty straightforward: an initiative petition is composed; 10 citizens sign the petition; the petition is submitted to the state Attorney General for certification as being in the proper form; complies with the restrictions of the process; and if certified the petition is sent to the Mass. Secretary of State and the petitioners proceed to collect more signatures. If a sufficient number of signatures are collected, the petition is submitted to the state legislature, which can approve or disapprove it as written, propose an alternate version or take no action. If the Legislature enacts the measure it goes the same path as a bill that originates in the legislature itself. If the legislature either takes no action, or disapproves the initiative, the petitioners have the option to collect more signatures, and force the measure to the public ballot.

    For an amendment to the state Constitution, the process is similar, except that the measure, before it can be submitted for ballot by the public at large, must be approved by at least 25% by the legislature in two consecutive legislative sessions
    -----------------------------------------------
    ** Governor Mitt Romney, in 2004, called for a state Constitutional Convention to ban same-sex marriage. However, none of the more unequivical proposals could pass. Very narrowly, a compromise proposal was adopted, along with an modifying amendment that would tie establishment of comprehensive civil union protections against a prohibition against same-sex marriage.

    The approval of these proposed amendments was actually seen as a sound tactic by the pro-marriage supporters; the vote was very close; the state legislature election cycle was coming up; polls showed that the majority of the general public in the state was in favor of same-sex marriage; and any amendment to the state Constitution would have to be approved by the next session of the legislature, in another Constitutional Convention, (in 2005) with no changes, in order for it to be applied to the state's Constitution.

    The strategy was sound: a good number of anti-same-sex marriage legislators were defeated, and none of the pro-marriage legislators lost their sets, and a second constitutional convention failed to pass the anti-gay marriage amendment.

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