At ASM, Fmr. State Senator Speaks on Gay Rights

Former State Senator Jarrett Barrios spoke on his legislative work to secure equal rights for same-sex marriages on Wednesday at All-School Meeting. The only Latino and only openly gay senator in the state house, Barrios fought to reject a campaign to amend the state constitution that would forbid same-sex marriage and deny approximately 1,100 marriage rights, benefits and responsibilities to gay couples. Frank Tipton, Instructor in History and CAMD Advisor for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues, met Barrios at a political function around 10 years ago. Last year, Tipton asked Barrios if he would come to speak at Andover. Tipton then consulted with GSA, who supported Barrios’ visit. “There are gay faculty on campus for whom this has a very important impact. There are students on the campus who have families strongly in favor or opposition to this issue, and who are struggling to find their own voices on this matter,” said Tipton. “As Jared Barrios said, we are talking about civil rights. It’s something we all need to take ownership of.” He continued, “I’m married by state law but not by federal law, so [my partner and I] file as a joint couple under Massachusetts state law for state taxes, but we file individual tax returns, which is typically more costly, for the federal government. And since, for example, social security is a federal plan, if we were married under federal law and I was getting social security and I predeceased my partner, he would get my benefits. But he won’t under the current law.” Lanita Foley, Associate Director of College Counseling, who married her life partner when they moved from California to Massachusetts, said, “The speaker pointed out that discriminatory and unjust laws affect us all and pave the way for future limits on our freedom. I think that it is great that PA students are encouraged to take an interest in matters that may not affect them directly, but threaten the integrity of other individuals around them and our society in general.” Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students, who also coordinates All-School Meetings, agrees with Barrios that the issue of gay rights has parallels to civil rights, except for a younger generation. “I feel that this generation did not experience some of the turmoil and turbulence around trying to settle some of the civil rights issues that Martin Luther King Jr. was all about. You live in the shadow of that,” Hoyt said. “Gay marriage rights, in a way, I think represent a present-day example of that kind of turbulence. People are passionate, and they have really fundamental disagreements about who should get what kind of civil rights in this kind of thing. It’s playing out in your world right now.” “It’s a real live example about what societal struggles with equality and civil rights and fairness can be like,” continued Hoyt. “It serves to, I think, engage you guys in something live and not strictly historical.” Tipton said, “I think incumbent upon students at the very least to consider this issue, think about it as a civil rights issue, and decide what their stand is on this. It’s very much in flux, and it’s soon going to be your generation’s turn to determine what could possibly be a decisive movement on this issue.” Barrios said, “Young people will be the opinion leaders in 10, 20 or 30 years. Young people at a place like Andover will be the leaders of your generation to carry this message to them and to really urge people to think about what is incumbent on them.” In 2004, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples legal marriage status in the case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. As a result, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts became the first and only state in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage. Following this decision, oppositional efforts arose to overrule the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling by amending the state constitution. In the midst of this political debate, Barrios urged his colleagues in legislature to vote against advancing this issue to the public ballot. In a floor speech on marriage rights at the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 2004, Barrios said, “I am the first person to speak on this amendment who is directly affected by it. I’ll admit that. My partner of ten-and-a-half years is also affected by this amendment. And because we will lose social security survivorship benefits, because we will lose inheritance benefits, because I will lose healthcare as a state employee, because I will lose numerous financial benefits that go along with marriage, my two children are also affected by this amendment.” According to Barrios, the process of amending the state constitution first requires approval by legislature. The state house votes on whether to advance the topic to a public vote. “If the public had voted on the ballot the day after the court decision, we would have lost. Only about 30 percent at the time supported this. But we were able to delay it and delay it and what happened in that time is gay couples started getting married…and the general public started supporting it. Now the public opinion is just through the roof. Around 70 percent of Massachusetts residents support marriage rights for all families,” said Barrios. Although the Commonwealth of Massachusetts legalizes same-sex marriages, other states and the federal government do not. Under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed in 1996, the federal government or any state need not recognize same-sex marriages for any purpose, even if that marriage has been recognized in another state.