Mass. DA candidate signed anti-gay petition

by Hannah Clay Wareham

Bay Windows

Friday August 13, 2010

Cahillane's name was revealed following the Doe v. Reed decision.

Candidate for Northwestern District Attorney Michael Cahillane's name is among the 143,000 certified signers of a 2005 petition, which would have made same-sex marriage illegal in Massachusetts had it been successful almost six years ago.

The names of both the candidate and his wife Christine were revealed on the petition following a Supreme Court ruling in Doe v. Reed. The June 24 majority decision read that the names of signatories of petitions and referendums are public knowledge. Local advocacy groups and the Massachusetts Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus (MGLPC) both offered their support during the case, and published a list of the signatories following the ruling.

Cahillane readily admits that he signed the petition, although allowed that he now regrets it. He told Bay Windows that he and his wife had been approached while collecting signatures for a separate petition, one that was successful in banning greyhound racing in the state. "I signed [the petition] in a spirit of democracy allowing people to vote and place items onto the ballot," Cahillane said. After signing the petition, the Democrat "sat and talked with my friends and family in the LGBT community and told them that I did, in fact, sign it, and that I regretted signing it," he said. "It certainly was not my position that I opposed gay marriage either at that time or certainly now."

Following the release of his name on the petition and his admission of regret, Cahillane said he still believes in the democratic process, but with some restrictions. "Certainly I think that people have a right to get items onto a ballot and put things to a public vote, but I don't believe that civil rights should be placed on ballot for a popular vote," he told Bay Windows.

The presence of Cahillane's name on the petition was brought to the attention of openly gay Easthampton City Councilor Joe McCoy, who in turn notified Tom Lang, Director of "I don't think [Cahillane is] a bad person," McCoy told Bay Windows. "This whole idea of [putting an issue] up to a popular vote -- I would give leniency to the average person, because it does sound democratic. It does sound like the right thing to do." Support for a referendum vote from someone in Cahillane's position -- who was then the Assistant District Attorney in the Northwestern District, which encompasses Hampshire and Franklin counties, including the towns of Amherst, Northampton, Easthampton, and Williamsburg -- crossed the line for McCoy. "I can't let him slide on that," the City Councilor said.

Cahillane told The Daily Hampshire Gazette on Monday, Aug. 9 that the issue of same-sex marriage is personal for him, and that "it's hurtful that it's being used for political purposes" -- a claim McCoy takes very seriously. "If he thinks this issue is personal for him, try being on the front lines fighting to make sure you and your family's rights are not put to a popular vote," McCoy said in a phone interview, his voice belying strong emotions. "[T]here's nothing like being screamed at while fighting for your rights on the steps of the State House to make an issue personal. I expect Mr. Cahillane has not experienced this quite as personally as many of us in the LGBT community." McCoy worked as MassEquality's Western Massachusetts Coordinator during the referendum debate in 2005.

McCoy last week authored a letter to the editor of the Gazette, as did Florence resident David Stevens, criticizing Cahillane -- and his campaign team -- for waiting so long to release a statement regarding the presence of his name on the petition. According to Lang, Cahillane's campaign knew about the petition for more than two months prior to Cahillane speaking out about it.

"Maybe on some level it will hurt his campaign, or maybe it won't. Maybe conservatives will rally around him," McCoy said. "Who knows?"

In a phone interview, Cahillane was adamant about his support for legal recognition of same-sex marriage. When asked if he supports the Transgender Civil Rights Bill, however, the candidate said that he would have to read over the proposed bill thoroughly before commenting.

Cahillane believes that his record on cases involving LGBT people will speak more loudly than his involvement with the petition. "I regret signing the petition. I have friends and family who it affected deeply," he said. "I believe that we're all individuals entitled to rights and protections, and as District Attorney. I will [enforce] that."

Cahillane's opponent, Democrat Dave Sullivan, told Bay Windows that he supports LGBT rights. "I'm strongly in favor of gay marriage. I thought the Goodridge decision was a watershed decision for equal protection in gay marriage, and it should be respected," Sullivan said. "I don't think that a civil right should be subject to a popular vote." The candidate recalled that in 2005, he actively campaigned to preserve marriage equality. "I was vocal about not wanting it to go the ballot," he said. Following the proposed bill's arrival at the Constitutional Convention, "I was involved in phone calls and letter campaigning to try to get the necessary majority to defeat [the Massachusetts Marriage Amendment], which was successful. I was very outspoken about my opposition to revoking gay marriage."

Sullivan also said he fully supports the Transgender Civil Rights Bill. He will meet Cahillane at the polls for a primary election Sept. 14. There are no other candidates in the race.

"I think it's important that the District Attorney enforces civil rights and prosecutes hate crimes," Sullivan told Bay Windows. "I think you need a District Attorney that's fully committed to civil rights."

According to Lang, the publication of Cahillane's name on the petition is an important political tool for LGBT voters. "That's the beauty of having the names out there," Lang told Bay Windows. "People are using these lists as a way to buy their goods and services, or who they're going to vote for." Lang cautioned, however, that the list of names does not represent the ultimate litmus test. "Just because someone's name doesn't appear [on the list] doesn't mean he or she is for LGBT equality. You really have to ask those questions of every candidate."

"Let the people vote"

The 2005 petition ultimately collected more than 140,000 certified signatures, according to an archived version of their website, but the effort was overturned at the June 14 Constitutional Convention, and marriage equality was preserved in the state of Massachusetts.

Allegations of fraud in the collection of signatories' names abounded in 2005. According to Lang, a portion of signatories claimed that they had been led to believe they were signing petitions against greyhound racing, or in favor of healthcare for senior citizens and other local issues. "You'd think you were signing to put beer and wine in the supermarkets, but you ended up being asked to sign 'back-up copies,' which then was a petition for same-sex marriage, and it was going to stop same-sex marriage in the state," Lang said.

The archived version of the -- preserved "for historical purposes" -- contains essays by Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), as well as a question-and-answer sheet regarding the ultimately unsuccessful Massachusetts Marriage Amendment. Following the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, "without the people's input, Massachusetts is now the only state in the country that rejects the deeply rooted meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman," the Q+A page reads.

Three organizations are currently listed on as "laying the groundwork" for a future effort to restrict legal recognition of Massachusetts's marriages to heterosexual unions: the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), the Coalition for Marriage & Family, and Catholic Citizenship.

In a 2005 statement released by the Coalition for Marriage & Families, Kris Mineau, President of the MFI, introduced the petition to stop the state from legally recognizing same-sex marriages. "For the past four years, the citizens of Massachusetts have taken aggressive action to codify the definition of marriage and the legislature has continually impeded that process." The Massachusetts Marriage Amendment would have been placed on the ballot, had it received the support of 25% of the legislature, which voted 141-45 on the effort.

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