Mass. advances ban on gay marriages


BOSTON (AP) – Lawmakers in Massachusetts, the only state where gay marriage is legal, on Tuesday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a critical step toward putting the measure the 2008 ballot.

Within two hours, they voted to reconsider at the urging of gay marriage supporters, but then voted again to uphold their initial decision.

The proposed amendment, which would define marriage as between one man and one woman but ban future gay marriages, still needs approval of the next legislative session before it can go onto the ballot.

Action on the amendment came swiftly Tuesday, in contrast to past sessions marked by protests and hours of debate. The initial vote came without discussion. Gay marriage supporters failed to rally the 151 votes they needed to kill the measure but succeeded in forcing an hour delay to reconsider the initial vote.

Backers of the amendment warned that gay marriage supporters, including House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, D-Boston, were trying to change enough votes to defeat the amendment, but when the joint session reconvened, Senate President Robert Travaglini, D-Boston, immediately called a second vote and, by a 62-134 vote, lawmakers sent the question to the 2007-2008 Legislative session.

DiMasi said the amendment discriminates against gay citizens and vowed to work with Gov.-elect Deval Patrick to defeat the question before it reaches voters.

“Today a minority of legislators voted to advance a proposal that takes away the civil rights those couples are guaranteed to under our constitution,” DiMasi said in a statement. “This initiative petition is offensive and deplorable.”

Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston, who opposes the amendment, said gay marriage supporters had hoped to kill the measure.

“We are obviously disappointed. We wanted to end it this year,” he said. “But they had less votes than we expected. We now know who we have to talk to because everyone is on the record.”

Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, a supporter of the amendment, said lawmakers upheld their duty.

“We’re a nation of laws and we’ve proved that,” he said. “The Massachusetts House and Senate stands up for what is right under law before any other consideration. And I am so proud to be part of that.”

Arline Isaacson, co-chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, vowed to continue the fight into the next session to ensure the question is not put on a statewide ballot.

“We can’t give up. We have no choice. We’re talking about our lives,” Isaacson said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s a huge task. We might not be able to do it.”

A total of 17 lawmakers who voted Tuesday won’t be returning in the new session, including some of the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage. Gay marriage supporters say they will pick up a total of seven votes to block the proposed amendment in the new session, according to Marc Solomon, campaign director for MassEquality.

Earlier in the day, Patrick had met with Travaglini and DiMasi to urge against a vote, calling it a “question of conscience.” He said the proposed amendment was the first time the amendment process was being used “to consider reinserting discrimination into the constitution.”

But the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week that lawmakers’ had shirked their constitutional duties in November by recessing until Tuesday, the last day of their session, instead of voting on the proposal but justices acknowledged they had no legal way to force action.

Lawmakers said the ruling could have tipped the balance by making some lawmakers leery of trying to kill the question with parliamentary tactics.

“It had a tremendous effect,” said Mark C. Montigny, D-New Bedford, who voted against the question. “My sense just from listening to members after that ruling was that people who were not conflicted in the past were suddenly conflicted.”

The supporters of the amendment collected certified signatures from more than 120,000 people in an effort to get the question on the ballot.

The amendment needs to be approved by 50 member of the current Legislature and 50 members of the new Legislature before going to voters on the 2008 ballot. Tuesday’s vote fulfills the first part of that process.

Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which backs the amendment, hailed the vote.

“This is democracy in action. It’s not a vengeance campaign. It’s not a hate campaign. It’s just an opportunity for the people to vote,” he said.

Patrick, a supporter of gay marriage, urged legislators to avoid a vote on the proposed amendment. A vote to adjourn the joint constitutional convention without taking up the gay marriage amendment would have killed the measure and put supporters of a ban back to square one.

“This is not just another question for popular decision. This is a question, under the equal protection clause, about what freedoms the minority is entitled to,” Patrick told reporters after meeting with DiMasi. “This is the first time that the petition process has ever been used to consider reinserting discrimination into the constitution.”

After the vote, Patrick said issued a written statement saying he was disappointed.

“We have never used the initiative petition to limit individual freedoms and personal privacy, but today’s vote was a regrettable step in that direction,” he said.

Supporters of gay marriage had hoped to rally the simple majority – 101 votes – needed to end the session without taking up the question.

Crowds of gay marriage supporters and opponents crowded the front of the Statehouse hours before the session convened to press lawmakers on the measure, which would define marriage in Massachusetts as the union of a man and woman.

Proponents of the amendment seized the high ground, standing directly at the foot of the Statehouse steps with signs reading, “Let the People Vote.”

“Legislators are sent to Beacon Hill to vote on a matter, not to not vote on a matter,” said one of the sign holders, Paul Ferro, 30, of Norton.

Opponents stood on the opposite side of Beacon Street, in front of a Civil War memorial, with their own banners. “Let the people marry,” read one.

In a display of the emotions, one of the amendment’s backers yelled across the street at a person with a sign reading, “Start Acting Like Christians.” The amendment proponent said, “We are Christians, just like you.”

After lawmakers recessed without a vote in November, amendment supporters sued and asked the Supreme Judicial Court to clarify lawmakers’ duties under the state’s constitution.

Gay marriage opponents claim the people have the right to vote on gay marriage and lawmakers must follow their oath of office.

Since the marriages began in 2004, about 8,000 same-sex couples have wed in Massachusetts, the only state to allow gay marriage.

AP reporter Glen Johnson and David Weber contributed to this report.

AP-ES-01-02-07 2020EST