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A better man for Massachusetts: after four years of Mitt Romney and his antigay political maneuvers--and with conservatives now planning a new push to undo marriage equality--gays and lesbians in the Bay State welcome progressive new governor Deval Patrick with open arms.

On April 1, day 87 of his first term as governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick ordered the marriages of 26 out-of-state gay couples who had wedded just after same-sex marriage became legal in his state on May 17, 2004--and just before nonresident licenses were effectively blocked--to be registered in the state's vital records. It was an action his Republican predecessor, presidential candidate Mitt Romney, had steadfastly refused to allow, citing a dusty 1913 state law that prohibited recognition of marriages that would not be legal in couples' home states.

Patrick's decision was a sweet, if largely ceremonial, victory for gays and lesbians in the Bay State after a period of backlash against same-sex marriage by Romney and others. And the payoff may soon be sweeter, as Patrick would like to repeal the 1913 law. "If the bill comes to my desk," he says one spring morning in his office in the State House in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood, referring to a measure currently making the rounds in the state legislature, "I will sign it."

That kind of fresh talk on gay issues has Patrick's queer constituents swooning for their new governor, the first Democrat in 16 years (and the first African-American ever) to hold the office. A Harvard-trained lawyer like his friend and fellow Chicago native Barack Obama, Patrick, 50, the underdog in the Democratic gubernatorial primary last year, bested his two challengers, then trounced outgoing Republican lieutenant governor Kerry Healey in the general election in November. His progressive platform included full support for marriage equality, which made him the rarest of politicians; gay and lesbian voters responded in kind, donating an estimated $300,000 to his campaign.

And now they're reaping the rewards. "It is so dramatically different to have a supportive governor in the corner office," says Lee Swislow, executive director of Boston-based legal group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. "He pledged his support of us, and we're now seeing the effect of it."

But while his effort to record those 26 same-sex marriages is certainly praiseworthy, Patrick's first 100 days have not been smooth. After a slew of early "missteps," as he puts it--spending over $12,000 on damask drapes for his office as part of a $27,387 makeover and leasing a $46,000 Cadillac, which prompted a much-ballyhooed "don't give up on me" mea culpa--his job approval rating is down to 48% from his winning electoral vote of 56%.

But, he asserts, "there's been a lot more going on than decorating my office and picking out drapes." He boasts that since taking office January 4, he has streamlined the permit process for new construction and business expansion, signed a regional greenhouse initiative, and gotten on track to add 100,000 new jobs by the end of his first term. And that's what the people of Massachusetts care about, he says: "They want to know that they've got a governor interested in having and doing the job."

It's a clear dig at Romney, who always seemed preoccupied with running for president while he was governor and who now distances himself from "liberal" Massachusetts--and decries same-sex marriage--every chance he gets on the campaign trail. "He's a very nice man, but I think most Massachusetts voters, including many of the people that supported him, realized that he wasn't really interested in doing the job," says Patrick. "I think we all can appreciate that you can't govern by photo op. You govern by results, and we're about results."

One major result he'd like to see is the defeat of a proposed amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage, which conservative legislators are angling to advance to the 2008 ballot. Democratic leaders refused to bring the measure to a vote last year, but after Romney sued in December to force them to--and the state's supreme judicial court gave them a stern rebuke--legislators reversed course, and the measure passed on January 2, the last day of the 2006 legislative session. If the measure prevails a second time this year, it would go before voters (ballot measures require approval in two consecutive legislative sessions). The first constitutional convention (a joint meeting of the state house and senate) of 2007 was scheduled for May 9 but will likely be postponed so that legislators can focus on the state budget.

Still, a vote is likely sometime this year. "I think we all expect that there will be a vote on the merits this time, and I think we can win it on the merits," Patrick says. "The best argument is the practical fact that if this issue goes to the ballot, then we will become a national battleground and little other business will get done."

However, only 50 yes votes (from a combined body of 200 representatives and senators) are needed, and marriage equality advocates believe 57 legislators are currently in favor of the measure. That means Patrick and newly elected senate president Therese Murray, who also supports marriage equality, have a lot of convincing to do. (The measure passed in the January 2 session with 62 votes.) If they fail to be persuasive enough? Same-sex marriage supporters say they hope Patrick would call in political favors or appoint eight of the "yes" legislators to different state positions, thus undoing the margin of victory.

Asked about such strategies, Patrick demurs, suggesting that the yes votes just won't be there in the end. "People have moved on from this issue in Massachusetts over the last couple of years, and we've shown that the sky hasn't fallen," he says.

In addition to his support of marriage equality, Patrick has also impressed observers by appointing three openly gay officials: Elyse Cherry as head of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Stan McGee as assistant secretary for policy and planning to the Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, and John Auerbach as the commissioner of the Department of Public Health. Auerbach oversaw the recording of the out-of-state marriages, since the registry is part of his department. "If you look in the corner office, it looks like the state," says Cherry happily. "You've got people of color, gay people, white people. He has proven that his is an office of inclusion."

So far, so good--though everyone, Patrick included, knows more remains to be done. "We haven't gotten to everything in the first 3 1/2 months," the governor says, like making good on a campaign promise to take "concrete steps" to protect transgender Massachusetts residents under the state's hate-crimes laws and broadening civil rights laws to include "those who identify across genders."

Of course, he adds, there's still plenty of time: "We want to have something to do for the rest of the term."

Henderson is the associate editor of In Newsweekly in Boston.
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Title Annotation:POLITICS
Author:Henderson, William
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:May 22, 2007
Words:1125
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