Metro

Yvonne Abraham

Karyn Polito’s gay rights conversion

In a past life, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito was a reliable, even enthusiastic, opponent of same-sex marriage.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File

In a past life, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito was a reliable, even enthusiastic, opponent of same-sex marriage.

It has been quite the conversion.

Not so long ago, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito was a reliable, even enthusiastic, opponent of same-sex marriage. During the pitched Beacon Hill battles on the issue a decade back, she voted in support of a constitutional ban on gay marriage numerous times. She has associated herself with homophobes such as local antigay activist Brian Camenker and former Florida congressman Allen West.

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“I was raised with the religious tradition that marriage is between one man and one woman,” she said in 2010.

But there she was Tuesday afternoon, beaming as members of the Massachusetts Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Youth were sworn in at the State House. She didn’t look at all uncomfortable during Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s inspiring speech about how the very hall in which they had gathered was the site of the historic battles that began a transformation.

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That’s because, two months after she stood beside West and said he had “a good message,” Polito became now-governor Charlie Baker’s running mate. At which time it was revealed she is a supporter of gay marriage. Back in 2013, a source told the Globe that Baker’s campaign had insisted Polito soften her stance as a condition of joining the ticket.

She’s all in now, a same-sex marriage supporter committed to working closely with the commission to fight homelessness and depression among gay, lesbian, and transgender youth. And she’s annoyed that anybody would doubt her sincerity. This is not about politics, she said, but rather other parents she has met, some gay and lesbian.

“I know in my heart that they as parents want the same things my husband and I want for our kids,” she said.

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One of the first things she did after the election was meet with members of the commission sworn in Tuesday. She is now their point person with the administration.

“We can strengthen families that have children that are gay or lesbian, and improve homelessness, mental health, suicide, bullying,” she said. “I really feel . . . I can bring a voice to this and make a difference.”

And members of the commission are grateful to have Polito in their corner. “We’re delighted,” chairwoman Julian Dormitzer said. “We want to work with anyone who is excited to work with us.”

Polito and Baker are both taking flak from conservatives this week for signing onto an amicus brief supporting gay marriage at the US Supreme Court. Baker was never popular with social conservatives. The stand is costlier for Polito: She was their darling.

So, now that she is committed to marriage for all, does Polito regret those votes opposing it? She bristled when I asked her that.

She says that the president, who once drew the line at civil unions as she did, gets a pass when it comes to his evolution on marriage. I point out he didn’t vote to ban it.

“You are questioning . . . my personal and heartfelt embracement of marriage for everyone,” she said. “Whether you want to believe me or not, my actions will obviously prove, beyond you, my sincerity and commitment.”

‘You are questioning . . . my personal and heartfelt embracement of marriage for everyone. Whether you want to believe me or not, my actions will obviously prove, beyond you, my sincerity and commitment.’

Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito 
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That’s great to hear. So now, why not go even further? Why not embrace the public accommodation bill that is a key priority of the commission to which she’s now so closely connected? That law would prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public places, making it illegal to refuse to serve them in restaurants or to keep them from using public restrooms. The administration does not support the bill. Baker has cited concerns about how it would be implemented.

Polito could be just the person to allay those concerns, working with activists to better explain the bill, and fine-tune it. The lieutenant governor has caught up on gay rights. But someone who feels as passionately as she now does should be in the vanguard.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at yvonne.abraham @globe.com.
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