Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Memories From Norton

Originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on May 27, 2013


By Bill Gouveia


This Memorial Day weekend I joined millions ofAmericans in honoring those who are no longer with us, particularly the brave men and women who gave their lives in defense of this great nation.


Having lived in Norton pretty much my entire life, I have been privileged to meet many outstanding local war veterans who were fortunate enough to come home from their distinguished military service.  They have been my elders, my teachers, and my friends.  They have taught me much about service to my country, service to my community, and perhaps most importantly service to my fellow citizens.


It is only fitting that I take a moment and honor a few of them here today.  They would never seek out this recognition, and would probably shun any praise that came their way.  But who they are, what they have done and in some cases continue to do is important and servesas an example for each and every one of us.


When I was at Norton High School, one of my favorite teachers was an older gentleman from town named Ralph Rubin.  Mr. Rubin taught history among other things, and was the ultimate gentleman.  He had a kind and gentle manner, and sometimes seemed a bit out of place with the “cool kids” he was teaching.  


But so many of us truly liked and admired him.  Partof the reason was the discussions he had with us about his military service.  A veteran of WWII, Mr. Rubin was a fixture at local veteran celebrations both in school and during the town ceremonies.  He was riveting to us because he always told the same story.


It involved his good friend who died near him on the battlefield.  Time has dimmed my memory somewhat, but I seem to recall the soldier’s name was Frank Maroni.  So many times I would hear Mr. Rubin tell us the story of Frank Maroni and his heroic exploits, as well as his noble death.  The tale was told with emotion and pride, and we never got tired of hearing about it.


Another WWII veteran I have been honored to know for decades is Herb Church.  Part of a family with deep roots in Norton, Herb has also often related his personal stories of serving his country.  But more than that, he has spent much of his life since then serving and protectingthe memories of local veterans.


Herb has been an integral part of local veteran organizations, and for as long as I can remember has been honoring service men and women.  I have watched him march in countless parades proudly wearing his uniform.  He is quiet, unassuming, and yet the first one to step up for veteran causes.  His recent offer to provide for the Sgt. Trent Memorial Park is yet another example of his selflessness and civic pride.


Last but not least is Al Watson, one of the true backbones of Norton’s proud veteran’s heritage.  Tough as nails but with a soft spot for our military personnel, this veteran has made it a part of his life to keep the memories of local service people alive.  


For decades he and his fellow veterans have made sure the grave of every veteran has been properly and respectfully marked to honor their service.  From flags to ornate metal plaques detailing their military careers, Al Watson and others have made sure none of us will forget the sacrifices of those who have helped make our lives today possible.


You had better not fly an American flag improperly around town anywhere, because Al will see it and has no problem letting you know it needs to be corrected.  One of the true local characters making Norton such a unique place to live, his contributions should be appreciated by the entire community.


I’m sure virtually every town has men and women like these local heroes, people who represent the best of their generations and the principles of service to this country.  I hope this weekend they and in some cases their memories were honored and remembered.


And I have to wonder if somewhere, the family of Frank Maroni knows that a couple generations of a small Massachusetts town grew up knowing of his brave sacrifice.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Mansfield Election Turnout Raises Questions

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on May 24, 2013
By Bill Gouveia


            The recipe for holding an election is simple:  Take one large portion of registered voters, throw in some candidates opposing each other, sprinkle with an issue or two, mix together vigorously, simmer over medium heat for at least 30 days, then serve.


            But even the simplest recipe doesn’t work if you leave out one or two of the key ingredients.  This was most obvious recently in Mansfield, where those trying to serve the local election up to the people were handicapped by a shortage of two vital ingredients:  Candidates and voters.


            We have seen some pathetic and lamentable election turnouts in this local area recently.  North Attleboro’s 2013 town election saw less than 10 percent trek to the polls.  Norton, Rehoboth and Seekonk had somewhat similar experiences.  To term recent local voter turnout “poor” in the Sun Chronicle area would be (with the notable exception of Foxboro) a gross understatement.


            But in Mansfield, a totally underwhelming 335 people out of over 13,000 registered voters actually cast ballots.  That’s about 2.25 percent.  More people than that attended the Annual Town Meeting.  More people than that attend junior varsity sporting events in that town.  Heck, more people than that stop to look at accident scenes on the highway.  That’s not a turnout, it’s an expression of complete and utter disdain.


            But can you blame them?  Mansfield had absolutely no contested races to decide.  Not for selectman, not for school committee, not for any town board, committee or position.  Every single candidate ran unopposed.  Except for writing in a name, voters had no choice whatsoever beyond taking a pass and staying home.  So that’s exactly what they did.


            What does that say about Mansfield in general?  Is it indicative of a problem, or a sign of general satisfaction?  Are voters lazy, apathetic, or simply satisfied with what they have and see no reason to even consider any changes?


            It’s a pretty safe bet most town officials would have you believe the latter.  Some may very well look upon the low voter turnout and lack of challengers for elected positions as a positive comment on their performance.  And there may be some validity to that point of view.  Perhaps people just feel totally comfortable with government as it is.


            But a two percent voter turnout?  Seriously, nobody is that good.  Two percent is what you get when there is something wrong, not what you get when voters simply don’t have interesting choices.  Two percent is a statement made via silence.  The question is – what are voters actually saying by saying nothing?  Yes, that’s a terrible sentence, but I don’t know how else to phrase it.


            Things have been running pretty smoothly in Mansfield.  The selectmen seem to be working together well, the town manager has provided strong leadership, and relations with the school department have greatly improved.  Yet there are still many issues the town must address in the immediate future, and quite a few will involve making difficult decisions.  It’s not all sweetness and roses.


            History tells us that these things are cyclical to some extent.  Interest in local affairs ebbs and flows, usually in accordance with the level of controversy facing the electorate.  Put an override on the ballot, and turnout will increase dramatically.  Cut sports from the high school budget and the turnout will surge.  Heck, just have enough candidates to create a contest and you’ll get much better than two percent.


            And why aren’t there more contested races?  Well, there are many theories.  My own belief is that it just isn’t as easy to serve your town as it used to be.  You seldom get credit when things go right, and always get blamed when they go wrong.  Budgets are in the many tens of millions these days, and it is no fun making cuts in services people truly care about.  Selectmen rightfully defer often to the town manager, and school committees are really just powerless figureheads since Prop 2-1/2 became law.


            But no races at all. and only two percent turnout?  The only thing that is a recipe for is disaster.


Something smells funny in Mansfield, and it’s not the sewer plant.  Voters and officials were smart enough to build that in Norton.


Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Remembering Larry is to Remember All Families

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, May 20. 2013

By Bill Gouveia

            Last week marked a sad and special anniversary for my family, one we observed quietly and reflectively.  It was 20 years ago this month that my wife’s dad, Larry W. Shaw of Norton, passed away after a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis. 

            The world is full of stories like this.  Nearly every family has had an experience where a beloved member was afflicted by a disease that robbed them of their best years.  It is something to which almost all of us can relate.

            But it is important the story of people like Larry be told and remembered.  Far too often people are judged and memorialized based upon how they handled the challenging illnesses they faced.  They get defined by their disease, and that is grossly unfair.  So I thought I would talk about Larry a little bit, to honor him and all those who have been in his situation.

            In the 1950’s Larry Shaw was living the American Dream.  He was 28 years old and married to a wonderful woman with three daughters and another on the way.  He had a good job with Texas Instruments in Attleboro, and had moved his family from Rhode Island to Norton.  He bought a house on Plain Street, and eventually moved to Pond Street on the Norton Reservoir. 

            His work at TI was important and fascinating.  He helped develop several patents.  He engineered dimming lights and intercoms in his home long before it was popular.  He had a workshop in his cellar where everything was in tis place and you could virtually eat off the floor.  He was intense yet funny, and his future was limitless.

            Then he started having some physical issues.  He kept falling down a lot.  His legs were bothering him.  He started having vision problems.  There were multiple visits to the doctor, and lots of tests.  Finally, when they could find nothing else, doctors proclaimed him to have MS.  It was a scary and devastating diagnosis of a disease that would end up also claiming the life of his youngest daughter.

            But Larry and his close-knit family merely viewed it as something to be dealt with, like any other problem.  Larry started wearing braces on his legs, and walked with a cane.  Then he proceeded to using metal crutches.  He began utilizing a motorized cart at work, and adapted his Buick station wagon with hand controls so he could drive without using his legs. 

He also still managed an occasional drive in his beloved Model A antique car.  He had saved “Bessie” during the 1954 hurricane and had kept her running and in great shape.  He loved taking his daughters out for a Sunday drive in her, and they fought over who would sit in the rumble seat.

            He remained active in his church and his community.  He was a member of Norton Singers and helped his beloved wife with musicals for them and at church.  He was a member of the Norton Conservation Commission, reflecting his concern for the environment before it was politically popular. 

            Despite being confined to a wheelchair by that time, he was vice chairman of the building committee that constructed the current Norton High School in the early 1970’s.  He contributed his engineering expertise and perspective on the handicapped to help build a school from which all four of his daughters would graduate. 

            When his oldest daughter and I graduated in 1974, we were the first class to have spent a year in the new school.  Larry was proud of that, and three years later I was proud when I married Cynthia and officially became a part of his amazing family.

            The last few decades of Larry’s life were pretty much spent bedridden, but at home thanks to the care given him by his family.  He never lost that smile that lit up the room, and he lived to see four of his eight grandchildren.  He would love the fact his great-grandson looks so much like him today.

            There are so many stories out there of people like Larry and their families.  I tell this tale today not to bemoan their loss, but rather to celebrate the lives they led.  They are an inspiration to us all.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bomber's Body Not Worthy of Controversy

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on May 17, 2013
By Bill Gouveia

When the body of Boston Marathon bomber suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev somehow wound up at Dyer-Lake Funeral Home in North Attleboro a week or so ago, it touched off what becamean intense process of determining where the alleged murder (I add alleged here forlegal purposes) would be buried.

There were protestors at the local funeral home, led there by a media horde trying to keep up with the public’s insatiable thirst for news related to the tragic events.  There was plenty of raw emotion towards the deceased individual responsible for the cowardly attack, and some of that spilled over to the owners of the funeral home.

A few neighbors of the business were upset at the media crush and that the alleged terrorist was – even in death – so close to their home.  Some residents were outraged his body would even be allowed within town borders.  Others were justifiably and rightly concerned the commotion was disrespectful to the family of a person being waked that afternoon.

After the incident at Dyer-Lake, the body was moved to Worcester where it became a much bigger fiasco.  Boston Mayor Menino swore Tsamaev would never be buried in Boston.  Local police wanted to charge the funeral home for the cost of police details to control angry crowds and provide security.  Finally, a Christian woman from Virginia stepped forward and arranged for the body to be buried there in a small Islamic cemetery.

There is no doubt most if not all the emotions generated by the handling of the body were real and genuine.  Our area has been through a lot in the last month, and the frustration, anger and sorrow associated with all that has happened has raised tempers and lowered tolerance levels.           

When you have dead and crippled children, young men and women with limbs blown off while just watching a storied sporting event in one of America’s premier cities – well, that’s simply not supposed to happen here at home.  While our brave and heroic Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are sadly accustomed to such violence, it is not expected to be a part of where we live.

Maybe that explains the unusual behavior surrounding the body of a heinous criminal.  Tamerlan Tsarnaev was an evil man, and few beyond his family felt even the slightest twinge of remorse over his death.  But generally speaking, death is considered the final punishment.  In this case, it was not enough for many.

We have had awful serial killers in this country who – once dead – were buried and relegated to the evil section of the history books.  In death, we gave them the one thing they could never handle.  We expressed our complete disdain by not caring what happened to their remains.

But we seemed obsessed with this terrorist beyond his richly deserved violent ending.  We are so obsessed we unfairly mistreat people like the owners of Dyer-Lake Funeral Home, who were just doing their job. 

Rep. Betty Poirier of North Attleboro actually went to Dyer-Lake when word broke that Tsamaev’s body was at the funeral home.  She said she had “no idea what he is doing here.  I’m very unhappy he’s in our town.”

Poirier was undoubtedly upset and concerned for her community.  But you have to wonder if she called the funeral home owners for an explanation prior to going before the media at their business.  Maybe she did, and wasn’t happy with their answer.  Maybe she didn’t, and expressed her own frustration through her presence.  Either way her trip clearly inflamed a situation that needed no further provocation.  It was a poor decision.

The worst thing we as citizens can do is to keep allowing these horrible human beings to continue to exert control over our behavior.  Reacting to where Tsarnaev’s worthless body is being shipped for disposal is not a good use of our time or effort, and is beneath us.  We should let our hatred of him go and use that wasted energy to concentrate on helping and supporting the injured he left in his wake.

We should not make innocent folks like the funeral home owners in North Attleboro and Worcester targets for our frustration and anger.  Let’s not allow Tsamaev to claim any more victims.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, May 13, 2013

"Reefer Madness" Hitting Local Officials Hard

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, May 13, 2013.

By Bill Gouveia

When Massachusetts citizens voted a short time ago to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, a flurry of activity was set of in cities and towns across the Commonwealth.

City councils, selectmen and planning boards immediately set about protecting the public from the threat allegedly posed by medical marijuana.  This municipal strain of “reefer madness” wasted no time in grabbing the attention of town and public safety officials who felt the need to make sure the pot dispensaries did not suddenly smoke-out suburbia.

Some couldn’t even wait for the state to come out with rules to regulate these dens of medical iniquity.  Before they even knew exactly what they were dealing with, they were desperately trying to ensure such a facility could not locate within their borders.  They would have banned them outright, except the law apparently prevents such a thing.

Much of the impetus for such regulatory efforts stems from police chiefs who see having the illegal drug legally handed out in their towns – albeit only to people with permission – as a serious problem.  It is hard to blame them, since declaring a product to be illegal and then setting up a place where it is dispensed makes their jobs harder.

But it is truly amazing what the mere thought of having a business in town dealing in marijuana seems to do to folks.  While the opening of a liquor store barely causes a ripple in comparison (except perhaps with neighbors and other liquor license holders), just the possibility of marijuana openly being distributed to anyone is sending town planners into overdrive.

If some of the zoning regulations being proposed were to pass, it might be easier to locate an adult entertainment business in those towns than a medical marijuana treatment center.  Some officials have expressed concern such businesses could cause increased crime and possibly put impaired drivers on local roads.

But the new regulations issued by Massachusetts officials state the facilities are only for people with a “debilitating medical condition” including but not limited to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Crohn’s disease, cancer, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.  It is hard to believe these folks would be much of a threat to any neighborhood or community.

We need to remember this law passed on the ballot with about 63 percent of the vote.  That is generally considered a landslide in political circles.  Is it possible this overwhelming majority meant they wanted these treatment centers located in the state, as long as it wasn’t in their particular city or town?  That would not be unprecedented.

This is a classic case of rushing to judgment before knowing the facts.  You have to give some credit to the communities who at least waited until after the regulations came out before attempting to make locating one there impossible through zoning manipulation.  And at the same time, it should be noted some zoning regulations are necessary and proper to make sure problems do not arise.  This would be true of almost any business.

But voters and citizens need to understand this is not a complete legalization of marijuana.  You cannot walk into these centers and order an ounce to go for recreational purposes.  These are businesses to supply a drug to people with serious conditions who need them just to be able to life their everyday lives.

Does the possibility of people abusing the rules for their own purposes exist?  Of course, but it would appear there are enough regulations to control those possibilities.  It is really a shame many municipalities seem to be concentrating on the perceived negatives of such facilities rather than the benefits they can offer many people who desperately need them.

Forget the whole “marijuana is a gateway drug” argument, because it does not apply here.  This is not condoning recreational use of pot, nor extending tacit approval for people to use it illegally – even though a huge number of people do just that.  Those who would make it about those issues are being terribly insensitive to the patients and are ignoring the clear will of the majority.

Fearing what we do not understand is not a good excuse for the kind of overreaction we have seen in this situation.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Facts Don't Back Foxboro Casino Backlash Theory

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, May 10, 2013
By Bill Gouveia

When Foxboro held local elections a couple weeks ago, they voted out an incumbent selectman and incumbent school committee member.  Both were perceived (rightly or wrongly) as being “pro-casino” in the Great Gambling Election of 2012.

So yours truly decided to write about how the “casino effect” is still hovering over Foxboro and influencing local elections.  The plan was to describe how emotions and political alliances formed during the casino war had spilled heavily over into election politics and were affecting the town’s choice of leaders.

But when sitting down to write such a piece, one problem quickly became evident:  The facts do not support such a conclusion, despite appearances to the contrary.

 That does not mean the casino issue has totally gone away, or Foxboro isn’t different in its aftermath.  There have been large scars left by this volatile affair, both on the surface and deep down where they are harder to notice.  It was a nasty, bitter, and personal fight that often found friends and neighbors advocating in opposite directions.

But an objective and quick analysis of Foxboro election history shows that with the exception of the hugely controversial 2012 affair, voters are simply handling their business as usual.  In fact, their turnout at local elections puts many of their neighboring communities to shame.

In 2012 the casino issue drove Foxboro’s voter turnout to an incredible 6200.  Then look at this year and the turnout of 3200 or close to 30 percent, and compare it to the 1800 folks who voted in 2011.  That would lead you to believe the spike in voting is casino-related.

But in 2010 almost 2900 Foxboro voters cast ballots.  In 2009 the vote was over 2600, and it was close to the same in 2008.  Those are turnouts all hovering around the 25 percent mark, which you might initially think is not all that great.

Then you look at turnout percentages in nearby communities like Norton, Mansfield and North Attleboro where the average has been closer to ten percent in recent years.  Suddenly Foxboro’s numbers don’t look that bad.  In fact, they look pretty good.

There are lots of reasons why, starting with the fact there have been races for most key offices each year.  Strongly contested races generate turnout, while a lack of candidates usually translates directly into a lack of interest among voters.  Foxboro is fortunate to have had interesting and strong candidates for their elected positions.

Additionally, Foxboro has some unique and interesting issues for voters to help decide.  Most communities don’t find themselves dealing regularly with one of the most successful sports franchises in the country, complete with all the complications, advantages and problems attached.  Citizens tend to be a tad more selective in choosing who they send to perform such tasks.

Also, Foxboro citizens are more involved in local government these days than most of their neighbors.  Civic pride is not just a catchphrase to them.  The self-proclaimed “Gem of Norfolk County” has a bit of a well-deserved attitude.  Voters there do more than talk the talk – the walk into the polls and vote.  And that is to their everlasting credit.

Watching the politics of Foxboro over the last five years or so is a fascinating study.  There was a move towards more of an “outsider” group on the board of selectmen for a while, and the balance of power in town swung to them.  Then the “townie” faction seemed to stage a mini-revolution, and in a bloodless coup restored their control.  The candidates who lost this year were no doubt affected by the casino aftermath, but not as much as some would portray.

Through it all, Foxboro voters have expressed themselves and then often changed their minds.  Things got a little confusing with the casino, because “listening” became the big issue.  Some wanted to listen to the casino people, learn the facts and let the voters decide.  Others demanded town officials listen only to them.  Selectmen were rewarded or punished for listening – or not listening.  Hey, nobody said politics had to make sense.

So does the casino issue still have lingering effects in Foxboro?  Sure, but not as much as people might initially believe - especially those pesky newspaper columnists.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Politics Ended Regional Veterans District

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Monday, May 6, 2013

By Bill Gouveia

If there is one thing (other than New York) that New Englanders seem to truly dislike, it is regionalization.  It's a concept that just doesn't fly here, particularly when it relates to local government.

A perfect example is the recent collapse of the Crossroads Veterans Services District, a joint effort by Easton, Norton, Mansfield and Foxboro to combine efforts to serve veterans in each community.  It started with Easton and Norton working together and sharing personnel, and seemed to gain steam when Mansfield and Foxboro also joined in.

But the organizations death came quickly and abruptly when Easton selectmen voted to withdraw primarily for cultural reasons two weeks ago.  Mansfield and Norton followed suit shortly thereafter, and each town will presumably go back to hiring its own veterans agent and maintaining its own office, staff and workload.

That will be good news to some veterans who never liked the initial creation of the district.  Some believed it was better for each town to have its own agent and focus solely on those needing help within its borders.  They saw regionalizing the service as a sign of weakness rather than strength.

But that response was much more emotional than fact-based.  In many instances it was the perception rather than the reality of the situation that bothered folks.  How can you seriously say you are serving veterans well when you don't even have your own agent, they asked.  To some extent it was a matter of pride.

But the truth is - it shouldn't be.  The district was a good idea.  It allowed for a pooling of resources, expanded availability of personnel, created better access for veterans, and could have save money at the same time.  But it is now dead, and there are several main reasons why.

In Massachusetts, our municipalities and their citizens are very parochial.  We take great pride in having our own local services, and staffing them with our own local officials.  Then we can either complain about how bad they are or brag about how good they are.  But we still have them, and that's what counts.

In most of the rest of the country, regionalization is a way of life.  County government (that's real county government, not the corrupt and self-serving excuse for county government that exists here) usually runs things like schools, police and fire, highway and public works departments.  Towns still maintain their individual identities, but share the tax burden across a wider base.
But not here.  Sure, we have a few regional schools that do a good job.  But most of our county services are overlapping with state and local government.  Their budgets are something we are assessed, rather than decide.

And our political landscape is such that being efficient on a regional basis is almost impossible.  In fact, most of our laws discourage this very thing.  They are more concerned with creating paid positions for political appointees than giving the taxpayers the best value for their tax dollars.

That was pretty much what killed the Crossroads Veterans District.  State laws may well have prevented it from being run in the manner the founders originally planned.  It began to take on all the characteristics of yet another bloated bureaucracy, complete with soaring budget planning and political complications.

By most accounts, that really became a problem when Foxboro became very active in the district.  The aggressiveness of both Town Manager Kevin Paicos and others in trying to expand the budget and reshape the philosophy was largely responsible for breaking up the group.  Though it was not stated publicly, it was pressure and politics from Foxboro that drove out Easton and ultimately ended the experiment.

The fact is towns in Massachusetts just don't seem to play well with others.  Regionalization needs to stop being considered a sign of weakness and start becoming a natural thing.  Mutual aid has long been a tradition when it comes to local police and fire departments, but it must go further in all areas of government.

Becoming less provincial and more productive should be an admirable goal.   With cooperation from state and local authorities, regionalization could make that happen.  But it will only become reality when citizens start caring about and demanding it.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Let's Define terms "Bigot" and "Intolerant"

This column originally appeared in The Sun Chronicle on Friday, May 3, 2013
By Bill Gouveia

The word “bigot” is thrown around a lot these days, usually by people who aren’t quite sure what it means.  I thought I understood it, but decided to look it up to be sure.

According to the World English Dictionary, a bigot is “a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his or her own, especially on religion, politics or race.”  I found that slightly lacking, so I continued on and looked up “intolerant”, which was defined as “not able or willing to tolerate or endure.”

And therein lays the rub.  In this day and age, it is apparently not enough we live our lives according to whatever religion, dogma, political bent or set of guidelines we as individuals decide to follow and believe in.  No, it seems we must also denigrate and otherwise degrade those we consider to be our moral inferiors.  After all, what good is it to hold the moral high ground if you can’t lord it over others?

This philosophy seems most prevalent today in the debate over gay marriage.  Some Christian groups and others opposed to homosexual unions (or just homosexuality in general) are claiming they have been unfairly tagged with the “bigot” label.  They complain they are being forced to “accept” things like homosexuality, even though it goes against some values they sincerely cherish.

 I must confess I find that thinking somewhat puzzling.  Is allowing equal rights to those who differ from us “accepting” what they do?  Or is it merely recognition of the fact we live in a country where you are free to be who and what you are, as long as you don’t hurt others doing it?

Were the people who opposed interracial marriage for so long bigots?  I guess they could qualify under the strict definition, but I prefer to think many of them simply were afraid of what they did not understand.  As generations passed and we learned more about ourselves and others, these fears faded and so did public opposition to what some referred to as an “unnatural” practice.

Of course, many gay marriage opponents bristle any time this volatile topic is compared to racial issues.  However I’m not comparing the issues themselves, but pointing out the similarities in how society in general has reacted to them. 

It is hard for many young people today to fully appreciate just what a big deal “accepting” interracial marriage truly was in many parts of this country.  The public was generally opposed to the concept, and it intruded upon the religious beliefs of many.  The integrity of both marriage and the individual races would be damaged, it was argued.  The children of interracial couples will be unable to adjust to the scrutiny they will receive, critics chimed.

 Of course, that was silly.  Interracial marriage isn’t even really a topic of discussion anymore, yet most of those religions who decried it seem to still be flourishing.  They did not abandon their core beliefs in order to “accept” those who obviously did not agree. 

They just came to realize their “acceptance” was neither being sought nor necessary.  It just didn’t matter whether they believed those engaging in marriage this way were morally right or wrong.  It only mattered that people who loved each other and wanted to raise a family together received equal rights under our laws, and their actions were no threat to the rights of others.

 That same situation exists today regarding gay marriage.  It is not a matter of gay rights, but of human rights.

No religion is being forced to accept homosexual couples as something they desire or recommend.  But we are as a country on the verge of recognizing we stand to lose more by denying gay people the equal rights and advantages of marriage than we do by extending them voluntarily.  We in Massachusetts understand that, as gay marriage has been legal here for almost a decade now.

Bigotry is always repulsive, even when it stems from those who wrap it in the cloth of God.  But that is different from intolerance, not only in degree but by its very nature.

Christians are not bigots, and homosexuals are not a threat to traditional marriage.  So let’s all stop being intolerant – whatever that still means.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and can be emailed at and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.