As lawmakers debated gay marriage in another marathon session yesterday, newscasts were filled with arcane State House jargon: preliminary and final votes, points of parliamentary order, dueling amendments, measures that moved on and off the table.
And at the end of it, once again, confusion, and no resolution.
"I need, like, a flow chart to see how it breaks down," Darren Wilcox, 34, a bartender from Jamaica Plain, said at one point.
The issue of gay marriage has touched off thousands of passionate conversations among Massachusetts residents recently. After reflection and some soul-searching, it seems everyone has an opinion on whether gays should be able to wed.
But trying to follow the intricacies of the political process, many residents said yesterday, can be mind-boggling and exhausting. At a certain point, it's easier to tune out and wait for the final results than to rise and fall with every step.
"It doesn't affect me personally so much, so I don't follow it so closely," Wilcox said. "What happens is what's going to happen, regardless of my stance on it."
That's the bemused take shared by many people who didn't rally at the State House or lobby politicians, but mulled over the issue at coffee or lunch, while walking to work, or taking a break.
Gay marriage as a topic has been nearly impossible to avoid in this state, given the endless hours of chatter on talk radio and press coverage ad infinitum. But there's only so much debate that even a well-informed person can stomach before the arguments start to get tired. "I know how I feel about it," said Gary Carpenter, 40, of Jamaica Plain. "I don't have to support my reasoning."
And for those without a direct stake in the fight, it can seem a distant, convoluted battle, no matter how physically close. As demonstrators unfurled a "Homo sex is sin" banner and set up camp on Boston Common yesterday, Tyrone Robinson set up for business at Hip Zepi, a hip-hop clothing store down the street. The 36-year-old Charlestown resident has a front-row seat of sorts, though he admits he has a hard time following the news.
"It's complicated," he said. "You don't know who's on first, really."
And some, their opinions hardened, don't think the matter worthy of further discussion. "I don't agree with it," said Shadisa Casellas, 22, who grabbed a hot dog for lunch yesterday from a roadside cart downtown. "Guys are going to be walking down the street, holding hands and kissing," she said. "And babies' eyes are all around. You need to look out for the children."
While many seemed turned off by the cumbersome legislative process, one thing is clear: Judges and lawmakers have sparked a debate much broader than many expected. Kelly Chronley, 18, an engineering student at Northeastern University, said gay marriage has been a constant subject in her dorm, where students from different parts of the country have a range of opinions that surprised her.
Even in Dorchester's Adams Village, where the mere mention of gay marriage can raise a man's eyebrows, some people said they had reached their own conclusions.
"Everybody should have equal rights; everybody works," said Bob Sawtelle, 62, a carpenter.
Larry Hurley, 53, a retired utility worker and lifelong Dorchester resident, said he just spent a month in Jamaica, hanging out with other Bostonians. Gay marriage came up a lot; it's what seems to define Bostonians these days. "And I was the only one who didn't take issue with it," he said. It's the politicians, he said, who seem a little less sure of their views, more malleable and willing to switch sides.
"I think they're all a little afraid to touch it," Hurley said. "Dante said the hottest place in hell is the man who walks the fence."
That seems a common thread, no matter where people stand on gay marriage: Politicians can't necessarily be trusted with the issue. Wilcox, the bartender, said that legislators' motives don't seem pure, because they need to please both gay and straight constituents.
And many who think gay marriage is wrong still don't agree with the process. Samantha Henry, 37, and Sonia Francis, 50, two nannies from Mattapan, said lawmakers are the last people they want dictating the rules of marriage.
"I'm not for gay rights," said Francis, as she sat in a Jamaica Plain ice cream shop, spooning pureed sweet potatoes to her charge. Still, she said, "I don't think politicians have a right to tell anybody who they can marry and who they can't."
Indeed, many lamented yesterday, once the politicians got involved, even opinions that once seemed clear have started to feel muddled. Now, there seems a baffling menu of considerations: death benefits, health insurance, civil marriage, joint tax filing, adoption, parental rights.
The hardest part for some has been the way the world seems to have shifted in just four months. A Supreme Judicial Court ruling that seemed so clear-cut has been muddied by the political process.
John Davis, 29, a gay resident of Jamaica Plain, says he now finds himself pining for something that once seemed unattainable, full marriage rights. Years ago, he said, he thought civil unions would be a welcome step. Yesterday, he described the elation he felt when the court said he had the right to marry, and his anger at the legislators he now believes are trying to rip it away.
"I had never thought about getting married until this happened," he said, as he waited tables at a South End restaurant. But now, he said, civil unions don't seem good enough.
"They kept postponing it and postponing it," he said of lawmakers who took no action on civil unions in previous years. "And now they want to throw that at us like the scraps to the dogs."