For years now, they have been trekking up to Beacon Hill from Westfield and North Reading and all over the state, shaking their signs and chanting ``Let the people vote!"
Yesterday afternoon, as a special joint legislative session decided to recess until November, supporters of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage found out they would have to heave their signs and their fervor back to the State House yet again, and they were mightily frustrated at the prospect.
``This just goes to show the corruption of the Legislature," said Jim Rickert , 53, a Quincy resident who said he had been involved in the battle to ban gay marriage for years and who watched the proceedings from the House gallery. ``You'll see. The people are going to get more and more upset that they're not being represented, and they're not going to let it go."
``This isn't corruption," chimed in Tom White, 61, of Boston. ``It's a dictatorship! The cowards have gone home so they don't have to worry about being reelected in November."
Supporters of same-sex marriage praised the delay, saying the extra time would give them a chance to convince more legislators that the amendment should be killed and that by Nov. 9, those legislators will no longer have elections hanging over their heads.
With each passing year the number of legislators who oppose the amendment to ban gay marriage has grown, adding to the frustration of activists pushing for it. Still, supporters of the amendment said they were determined to keep coming back to the State House until it passes.
But they also expressed anger at what they called years of legislative trickery. In 2002, they collected enough voters' signatures to put the matter before legislators, who might have approved it twice and sent it to the ballot. But then-Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham adjourned the Constitutional Convention just as it began, effectively killing the initiative. In 2004, Rehoboth Democrat Philip Travis put another amendment to ban same-sex marriage before the joint legislative session, and it advanced, but it was killed in 2005 because gay-marriage supporters combined it with a recognition of civil unions. And now, in last night's decision to recess, some supporters see another debilitating setback.
``It's going to be much harder to bring legislators back two days after an election," said Kris Mineau , president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which pushed for the ballot measure. He said 170,000 people had signed petitions demanding that the measure be put before legislators, 50 of whom must approve it in two successive legislative sessions before it can appear on the ballot in the next state election. The petitioners' voices should count for something, he said.
The legislators' ``duty was to vote," he said. ``A citizen petition has been relegated to the graveyard. . . . This State House is famous for that kind of chicanery. . . . The question is, how long do we, the citizens of Massachusetts, put up with our voices not being heard?"
But opponents of same-sex marriage were as determined as they were frustrated last night, and most of them took comfort in their faith, certain that God would eventually hand them victory.
``I came to hold up God's will," said Michael Murphy , 49, of Plymouth, who stood on Beacon Street for hours yesterday in support of the amendment. ``We'll keep coming back till it's done. God's going to win. ``
Yesterday was Sylvia Martin's third trip to the State House in support of the amendment. Martin, 73, had come from Wakefield with five of her fellow parishioners from Trinity Evangelical Church in North Reading.
``I believe in the power of prayer," she said. ``If I do get frustrated, I pray and rejuvenate, and it keeps me in it. It's my hope that we will eventually have victory."
``I was here when Birmingham torpedoed us," said Etta Gibbs , 73. ``I'm not getting exhausted, I'm getting frustrated. This is four times now."
But Gibbs , who traveled from North Reading with Martin, said the Massachusetts Family Institute had helped maintain her commitment to the issue, with mailings and talks at her church, and she said she would keep fighting.
Evelyn T. Reilly , policy director at the Massachusetts Family Institute, has been in the battle longer than most. She started working on a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts in 1999, when an attempt was made to allow same-sex marriage in Hawaii.
``Seven years later, we're still here," she said. ``It's frustrating on one level, but I know it's a long haul. There will be setbacks and frustrations, but as this goes on, and more of the general public is aware, the process will be revitalized. People's energy hasn't flagged. We're just waiting for the next opportunity to do something.
``We're not going away," she added. ``If they kill this amendment, we'll be back with another one."