Gov. Deval marches in Pride parade to show opposition to ban
BOSTON Massachusetts lawmakers on Thursday, June 14, blocked a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage from reaching voters, a stunning victory for gay marriage advocates and a devastating blow to efforts to reverse a historic 2003 court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.
The 45-151 vote means Massachusetts remains the only state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to marry. The question needed the approval of 50 of 200 lawmakers in consecutive sessions to advance to the 2008 ballot. It got the first approval at the end of last session in January with 62 votes.
As the tally was announced, the halls of the Statehouse erupted in cheers and applause from supporters of gay marriage gathered outside the House chambers.
“We’re proud of our state today, and we applaud the Legislature for showing that Massachusetts is strongly behind fairness,” said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders.
“Equality for gay and lesbian citizens has enriched our state, made our communities stronger, and our families happier,” Swislow said. “The vote today was the triumph of time, experience, and understanding over fear and prejudice.”
In contrast to several past joint sessions, there was no debate Thursday: Senate President Therese Murray opened the constitutional convention by calling for a vote, and the session was gaveled to a close immediately after.
Opponents of gay marriage vowed to press on, but Thursday’s defeat after more than three years of sometimes wrenching debate could prove insurmountable.
Any effort to mount a new ballot question would take years at a time when political support in Massachusetts is swinging firmly behind gay marriage and public attention has moved onto other issues, including the state’s landmark health care law.
For gay couples, the vote marked what could be the end of a struggle that began in 2001, when seven same-sex couples, denied marriage licenses, sued in Suffolk Superior Court in Boston to challenge the state’s gay marriage ban.
More than 8,500 same sex couples have married in Massachusetts since they became legal in May 2004.
The vote is also a victory for the state’s Democratic leadership, including Gov. Deval Patrick, a vocal supporter of gay marriage, who pressed lawmakers up until the final moments to block the measure and who marched in the Boston gay Pride parade last weekend in a show of opposition to the measure.
House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, D-Boston and Murray, D-Plymouth, also support gay marriage and worked to change votes arguing the rights of a minority group should not be put to a popular vote.
Leading up to the joint legislative session, there were indications that supporters of gay marriage were gaining ground. A handful of lawmakers who had voted in favor of the amendment in the past said they were reconsidering their vote.
And one lawmakers who had voted in favor of the amendment Rep. Anthony Verga, D-Gloucester was unable to attend the joint session after falling and injuring himself earlier in the week.
Outside the Statehouse, hours before the vote, hundreds rallied on both sides of the issue.
“We believe it’s unconstitutional not to allow people to vote on this,” said Rebekah Beliveau, 24, of Lawrence, a student at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary who stood with fellow college-age amendment supporters across the street from the Statehouse.
“We’re standing up not necessarily on the issue of same-sex marriage, but our right to vote,” Beliveau said.
Across the road, gay marriage advocates stood on the front steps of the capital waving signs that read, “Wrong to Vote on Rights” and “All Families Are Equal.”
Jean Chandler, 62, of Cambridge, came with fellow members of her Baptist church in an effort to rebuff the image that strict followers of the Bible are opposed to gay marriage. “I think being gay is like being left-handed,” Chandler said. “If we decided left-handed people couldn’t marry, what kind of society would we be?”
Associated Press writers Glen Johnson and Ken Maguire contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 15, 2007.