Around 11 p.m., lofty rhetoric gave way to chaotic antics.
Legislators who opposed gay marriage stormed out of the House chamber, angry they were being blocked from voting.
Supporters of gay marriage inside the chamber started running down the clock, even suggesting a reading of bird sightings to keep a filibuster going. In the hallway, hundreds of protesters broke into song and refused to stop. And advocates, hoarse from screaming, telephoned a gay bar in Boston's South End, calling for reinforcements to join the protest.
After two very long, draining days of eloquent speeches and moving personal stories in the House Chamber, the debate over a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage produced only drama, legislative maneuvers, and nonstop yelling late last night.
In a tense encounter in the hallway, Represenative Philip Travis of Rehoboth confronted Senator Jarrett T. Barrios of Cambridge, accusing his fellow Democrat of supporting a filibuster by advocates of gay marriage to prevent a vote.
"You want to run into midnight so there's no vote on this issue at all," said Travis.
Barrios responded: "I think there are a number of other people who would like to speak. I know there are ten or 12 people queued up to speak who haven't had a chance to speak yet tonight on this issue. It is my hope certainly to let anyone speak on any issue."
The discord was touched off when the hour grew late and the gay marriage supporters defeated the Travis amendment. That emboldened the gay groups, who wanted to use the remaining hours until midnight to prevent another vote.
Back Bay Democrat Paul C. Demakis launched into a passionate and lengthy defense of the rights of gay and lesbian couples. Next up was a Milton Democrat, Senator Brian A. Joyce. Leaving no room for words to fail him, he proceeded to read, in full, a lengthy op-ed column in defense of same-sex marriage by Peter J. Gomes, a minister and a Harvard University professor of Christian morals.
As Joyce went on, opponents of gay marriage realized what was happening -- a filibuster.
They tried to regain the floor by appealing to Senate President Robert E. Travaglini. But Travaglini rebuffed them, and Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty threw the parliamentary equivalent of a tantrum. The Chelsea Democrat led about 20 fellow House members, mostly loyalists of Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's, out of the chamber.
They chanted, "We want a vote! We want a vote!" echoing the cries from opponents of same-sex marriage that had rung through the State House hallways on Tuesday.
After a brief respite, Travaglini regained control of the chamber. As the night went on, legislators who support gay marriage went to the podium one by one.
Outside the chamber, a group of about 200 gay-rights activists, holding rainbow flags and a huge American flag, had been singing for hours, their voices as strong and loud at 11 p.m. as they had been at 3 p.m. When it became clear that the amendment would not pass, Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, addressed the crowd in a brief civics lesson. Camera lights illuminated her face, and chants followed virtually every sentence.
"It's sure a lot better to be alive at the end of the day, and have dodged all those bullets. So understand this. If midnight comes, and they have not voted to take our rights away, they're still going to come back and they're still very inclined to put discrimination in the constitution, to make us second-class citizens. But if they get past midnight, we've made it through one more day, and that will be a good thing."
Legislators who had spoken in favor of gay marriage rights streamed out of the chamber and into the crowd, and the singers chanted "Thank you! Thank you!" and slapped their backs.
The filibuster and the display appalled some legislators. Among those who walked out of the chamber behind O'Flaherty was Representative Arthur Tobin of Quincy, another Democrat who opposes gay marriage.
Senator Robert L. Hedlund, a Weymouth Republican, accused Travaglini of allowing the stalling tactics.
"It's a great pattern: deny members of the Legislature the opportunity to vote, and then members of the public," Hedlund said. "This of course with the whole country watching -- terrific."