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Gay Persuasion, Pro and Con

On the eve of a key vote on gay marriage in Massachusetts, last minute lobbying on Beacon Hill and beyond is at a feverish pitch.

It is most intense for the handful of lawmakers who say they are reconsidering their votes on a proposed ballot question that would make same sex marriage unconstitutional.

WBUR's Martha Bebinger reports from behind the scenes, as advocates from both sides of the debate attempt to persuade one state senator.TEXT OF STORY

(Phones ring) Good Afternoon, Senator Hedlund's officeBEBINGER: Its 9 am, in the office of Republican Senator Robert Hedlund of Weymouth...and the push is on. It's been the same for the past 3 weeks. A phone bank for either the pro or anti-gay marriage side telephones a supporter and then forwards the call to a targeted lawmaker...in this case, Senator Hedlund. Twice a Day, all the phone lines stay lit for about an hour.(phone ring) And you're calling from where? Oh Revere, have you tried contacting your senator or representative?BEBINGER: This caller is not from Hedlund's district. But legislative director, Rob Butman, takes down a name, address, and a comment... thanking the Senator for his prior votes in favor of the amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman..Great, I'll make he gets the message. Thank you for calling, bye bye.BEBINGER: Until a few weeks ago, Hedlund was among the more than 50 lawmakers, the group Vote on Marriage needed, and was sure it could count on again, to put the gay marriage question to a state wide referendum. That is no longer the case.ROBERT HEDLUND: Because I've publicly related that I'm got frustrations on this issue I guess I used the word I was tormented in trying to arrive at a decision, so I made my bed, now I have to lie in it.BEBINGER: Hedlund could make a reasonably comfortable mattress using the 5,000 plus letters he's received. The office stopped counting last week.HEDLUND: We got a lot of mail, much more calls, letter, phone calls, e-mails than any other topic by far, probably by a greater amount, ten fold. Nothing comes close to this, nothing.BEBINGER: Hedlund estimates the pro-gay marriage group, Mass Equality is outspending Vote on Marriage advocates three to one. Yesterday, Mass Equlity delivered a list of 6700 constituents who want Hedlund to change his vote and keep the gay marriage amendment off the ballot. One Mass Equality leader challenged him to a softball home run hitting contest...the prize... Hedlund's vote.HEDLUND: We haven't had it yet, but I would destroy him. I think he'd have to just write that one off.BEBINGER: There have been a few slip-ups. In one of the many times Hedlund went to the homes of constituents, strangers, who asked to meet with him face to face, he had forgotten to bring the address of his next event.HEDLUND: And uh, I mentioned that to the folks, and one of the people present said, oh, I have an email from Mass Equality that mentions your next meeting, with the address here. And there was this whole long 2 page e-mail thread that had all of the talking points that they're supposed to be making to me, how they are supposed to address me, approach me. It was basically the whole playbook, which was an interesting read, having that handed to me inadvertently. So they've been very sophisticated, you have to give them credit, the way that they've run that campaign.BEBINGER: But sitting with a group of pro-gay constituents in his office, Hedlund tells them, the letters, calls and e-mails are not in their favor.HEDLUND: If I was basing this solely on politics, this would be settled argument. I'd be voting to put it on the ballot, because you've got more people supporting that position is what you seem to be saying, if it was based on politics yeah, that's the safer vote for me.BEBINGER: Kevin Butler from the Scitutate Democratic town committee has come to the meeting with Ellen Castle, a Republican from Scituate. They urge Hedlund to avoid the safer vote.ELLEN CASTLE: As a legislator you sometimes have to step in to protect the masses from hurting a minority group. By allowing this to go to a vote, the masses will really be hurting a minority group by saying, we get to decide whether you get to be treated the same as we do. The golden rule, that's what I live by, do unto others as they do unto you. I don't need anything else.BEBINGER: Hedlund tells the group he doesn't take amending the state constitution lightly, and that he's struggling with the decision, but he avoids answering questions about his personal feelings on gay marriage.Well thanks for your time, thanks for listening, sure...BEBINGER: In past votes for the anti-gay marriage ballot question, Hedlund has followed the advice of his chief of staff Ted Langill.TED LANGILL: I do think it lessens what a marriage is, to me, it kind of takes away from what the definition of what a marriage is. But also, unless there's some revelation on this issue, consistency is important politically.BEBINGER: Hedlund hears both sides of the debate constantly... his staff, family, supporters and colleagues are all divided on the issue. On this day, Hedlund meets with Senate leaders who want him to help defeat the ballot question. He speaks with President Therese Murray and then separately with Minority Leader Richard Tisei. Hedlund says there has been some arm twisting, but he won't comment on whether he's been offered anything in exchange for his vote. Tisei tells Hedlund it would not be good for the Massachusetts Republican party to be tagged as anti-gay, and he suggests Hedlund take a long term view.RICHARD TISEI: 10 years from now, 20 years from now, people who vote to put this on the ballot will really regret the vote. It might make sense now, but it won't later on. And most civil rights issues have been like that over the years.HEDLUND: I tend to agree with Richard on that, but there's a lot of people that still want to have a say in this matter.BEBINGER: By mid-afternoon, Hedlund is almost talked out on gay marriage, but he picks up a stack of phone messages about gay marriage that he'll return as he heads back to his district in time for his weekly radio show where the topic is gay marriage.SHOW ANNOUNCE WITH MUSIC: Now its time for pols and politics on Monday Night talk, on 95.9 on WATDBEBINGER: There are 2 pro-gay marriage constituents waiting for Hedlund in the parking lot, but he's got to get to the show, where his first guests are 2 Catholic lay leaders. One, Bob O'Brien, tells a caller that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, period.BOB O'BRIEN: The basic building block of society is the heterosexual man-woman, that complimentarity that a man and woman brings (says who). It's natural, it's normal (says who) and that's been the basis of every society. Just to go back to the previous caller Karen, who said we're just going to get used to it. 170,000 plus citizens are not going to just get used to it, and they're going to fight to restore morality.BEBINGER: O'Brien refers to the 170,000 signatures gathered to launch the anti-gay marriage ballot question, the fate of which is in the hands of Hedlund and his collegues. Hedlund says he's heard it all at this stage, many times, and still isn't sure about his position on gay marriage.HEDLUND: My head, my heart, my gut kind of are tangled in different emotions and elements of this whole argument right now. You want to do the right thing, but you know... that's where we're at.BEBINGER: Senator Hedlund will get another round of advice about doing the right thing today...including in a private meeting with Governor Deval Patrick this morning.

This program aired on June 13, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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