Lawmakers recess without taking formal stand on a petition signed by 170,000 state residents
BOSTON Opponents of gay marriage in Massachusetts appear to be running out of legislative steam at least for now.
State lawmakers recessed Nov. 9 without taking a formal stand on a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
They meet again Jan. 2, the final day of the legislative session, but it’s unlikely a vote would take place in time to get the proposal on the November 2008 ballot.
“This is over. It’s over,” proclaimed Arline Isaacson of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
Opponents of gay marriage gathered 170,000 signatures to put a proposed ban before the current Legislature. Their initiative effectively died with the lawmakers’ 109-87 vote to recess unless opponents find a way to force a vote before the next Legislature takes office in January.
Under Massachusetts law, the proposal needs the approval of a quarter of the Legislature or 50 lawmakers.
The legislators’ inaction irked Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute, who complained that the Legislature was “thumbing its nose” at the Constitution.
“We might be able to take it into a federal court, who knows? Certainly this denies due process of the people,” Mineau said. “The people’s right to free speech is being throttled. The people’s right to vote is being throttled.
Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, an opponent of gay marriage who decided not to seek re-election as he considers running for president, said there’s little he could do to force legislators to vote.
“If people want same-sex marriage, then take a vote. But don’t allow the Constitution and rule of law not to work,” he said.
During the debate, Democratic Sen. Jarrett Barrios, who is openly gay, pointed to his wedding ring and warned colleagues that putting same-sex marriage on the ballot would open the doors to a negative campaign vilifying gays.
“You don’t have to live next to us, you don’t have to like us,” Barrios said. “We are only asking you today to end the debate so that we can sleep easily knowing that while you may not live next to us or even like us that we will at least have the right to enjoy the same rights the rest of you enjoy.”
Gay marriage opponents accused supporters of same-sex marriage of flouting the will of voters.
“I’m probably 3,000 feet to the right of Attila the Hun. But the gracious people, the socially conscious people, the liberal people, you’re the ones who always want everyone to be heard. What about these 170,000 people?” said Democratic Rep. Marie Parente.
Before voting to recess, legislators unanimously rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would not only ban gay marriage but also require the state to no longer recognize existing same-sex marriages. The petitioners’ proposal would not invalidate existing same-sex marriages.
The Legislature grappled with various efforts to ban same-sex marriages even before the state’s highest court ruled in November 2003 that such marriages were legal. Lawmakers refused to vote on a citizens’ initiative in 2002, and two years later voted down their own proposed amendment banning gay marriage and legalizing civil unions.
Since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling, more than 8,000 couples have tied the knot in the state.
The unprecedented ruling has fueled a largely successful effort nationwide by opponents of gay marriage to make sure Massachusetts remains the only state to recognize same-sex marriages.
Amendments to ban gay marriage passed Tuesday in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. Only Arizona defeated such an amendment.
Two states Vermont and Connecticut have legalized civil unions that give same-sex couples benefits and responsibilities similar to marriage. Last month, New Jersey’s highest court ordered the Legislative to allow either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples.
Associated Press Writer David Weber contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 17, 2006.