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MassEquality looking to widen scope of its mission

Email|Print| Text size + By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / November 5, 2007

After months of contentious debate about its future, MassEquality, a gay-marriage advocacy coalition, announced over the weekend it will expand its mission in hopes of including other gay causes and promoting legalization of same-sex marriage.

The group, which was instrumental in the successful campaign to defeat a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, said it will continue its work within Massachusetts to reelect legislators who support gay marriage and also will address other issues important to the gay and lesbian community.

The decision came after months of intense internal debate over its mission after the state Legislature in June voted down a proposed amendment outlawing gay marriage. The group, which coalesced in 2003 after the Supreme Judicial Court legalized gay marriage, had considered disbanding. But after sharp debate, group leaders Saturday agreed to remain intact with a focus on promoting marriage rights beyond Massachusetts, said Marc Solomon, the group's campaign director.

"You don't build up political power and then just let it go without taking full advantage of it," Solomon said. "It's not good enough to just have marriage equality in one state, and with our expertise and political clout, we feel we can really accelerate the movement."

Of 17 board members, a solid majority supported the move, Solomon said. The group will also continue to support Massachusetts political candidates that support gay marriage rights and work to strengthen antidiscrimination laws, he said.

It will also provide assistance and advice to gay-marriage groups in other states "if and where it's wanted," he said. The group would be likely to concentrate its efforts in New England, he said.

In a story in last Monday's Globe, group leaders voiced uncertainty and sharp disagreement about the coalition's mission. Some coalition members yesterday said they regretted that MassEquality had essentially disbanded as a coalition and launched a smaller, separate group under the same name.

Among those who opposed the move were two previous board presidents, a treasurer, and the head of the coalition's lobbying team. "It is disappointing to me that MassEquality will move forward not as the umbrella organization through which all groups and individuals can work, but as a separate organization," said Ellen Zucker, a former chairwoman of the coalition's board who opposed the change.

Zucker said she considered it an honor to be part of the coalition but worried it will lose its strength without its sharp focus on marriage rights. But other MassEquality leaders said there was consensus to continue the group with a broader agenda.

MassEquality announced it will also work closely with GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) as that group seeks to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which says that states are not required to recognize gay marriages from another state.

Lee Swislow, executive director of GLAD, said the partnership would combine GLAD's legal expertise with MassEquality's lobbying and organizational knowledge. "It's a great thing and I think it will accelerate the effort" to legalize same-sex marriage throughout New England, she said. "This isn't about organizations," she added. "It's about equality."

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