A legislator finds himself tugged in two directions
In one corner of Representative Paul Kujawski's mind is the Rev. Michael Roy, a friend and confidant who stood by the lawmaker after he was arrested for drunken driving three years ago and who is urging him to continue supporting a proposed ban on same-sex marriage to preserve the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.
In the other corner are Sharon and Deb, a lesbian couple from Kujawski's district who recently met him and hope to change his mind. They told him how hard it was to come out to their conservative Catholic families and community and how winning the right to marry, after more than 20 years together, seemed to solidify their union.
Today, Kujawski could be forced to decide whether to reaffirm his support for the proposed constitutional ban or switch his vote, giving same-sex marriage supporters one of the few votes they need to defeat the amendment. He is one of a handful of lawmakers who previously supported the ban, but who have been targeted by same-sex marriage advocates as possible converts.
"There are moments where it heavily weighs upon you to vote one way, and then [you think] . . . you should vote the other way," Kujawski said in an interview in his office yesterday. "And when you try to absorb everything that you've been told and everything that you've been taught and the accumulation of all your life experience -- it's just a position I'd never thought I'd be in."
When the debate over same-sex marriage first roiled Beacon Hill, even before the Supreme Judicial Court's landmark 2003 decision that legalized same-sex marriage, Kujawski did not spend much time worrying about it: Opposing same-sex marriage seemed like a no-brainer. Kujawski, a married father of two grown sons and a lifelong Roman Catholic raised by strict Polish-American parents, has represented the same conservative southern Worcester County district for 13 years.
"Through your entire life and teachings, you understand that marriage is a union strictly between a man and a woman, and you don't think of it as anything else but," Kujawski said. On Jan. 2, when the proposed ban won its first round of approval, he was one of 62 lawmakers who supported it, well above the 50 needed. The margin is now said to be down to just one or two votes .
Advocates and opponents of the ban left Kujawski alone for a long time, but eventually, they began making their way to his fourth-floor office. Most politicians brag about their listening skills, but Kujawski said he met with almost everyone who came calling. To his surprise, he said, he found himself increasingly sympathetic to the plight of the gay couples who tried to explain to him how it feels to not have access to the same rights as heterosexual couples. Meanwhile, opponents intensified the pressure to keep him in the fold.
The lobbying reached fever pitch this week. Between the two sides, he has received hundreds of postcards, e-mails, phone calls, and between seven and 10 visits a day from activists on both sides.
"I don't think I can learn anything new at this point," he said.
Governor Deval Patrick called, asking Kujawski to look at the issue as a matter of basic fairness, saying that "everyone should be treated as a human being," Kujawski said. House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi asked him to come down to his office, Kujawski said, also entreating him to vote against the ban.
"He said the issue means a great deal to him, that he wants to move on, that he thinks we can accomplish a great deal in the Legislature with a governor who wants to work with us" if same-sex marriage does not become a distraction, he said.
Kujawski refused to say yesterday how he would vote or even whether he had made a decision.
But as he discussed the merits of the question, Kujawski appeared to be heading toward a change of heart. He talked about the gay partners who were not allowed to see one another in the hospital after a near-fatal accident, because they weren't yet allowed to marry; about how the daughter of a former conservative lawmaker begged him to vote for the amendment on behalf of her lesbian daughter. He kept thinking, he said, about how it would feel if he couldn't get married or if one of his sons couldn't.
But then, he said, he worried about disappointing the many people in his district who voted for him. He spoke of Roy, who stood by him after the drunk driving episode. (Kujawski says he no longer drinks).
Roy, he said, went out of his way to show how much he cared for Kujawski and believed in his commitment to public service -- and from the pulpit urged his congregants to vote for Kujawski.
"People put their faith in you to do what they think is the right thing," he said. "You don't want to disappoint them."
But then he also thought of Sharon and Deb, who endured so many struggles and are now so happy together. "And you're saying to yourself," he said, " 'Am I going to . . . take that away?' "