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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
November 17, 2006

Massachusetts ban halted

Lawmakers put off vote on amendment, likely killing it

Boston--Lawmakers took a big first step last week toward killing a proposed constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, the only state that allows it.

During the constitutional convention on November 9, only 50 of 200 lawmakers would have had to vote for the amendment to advance it. Instead, the legislators voted to recess the convention until January 2, the final day of the current legislative session.

Only a simple majority was needed for this vote, which passed 109 to 87.

Proposed amendments must pass two consecutive legislative sessions--this year�s and the 2007-08 one--before being put on a ballot.

The proposal was introduced by a petition drive spearheaded by anti-gay groups in the state.

Before voting to recess, lawmakers considered a more restrictive amendment that would have outlawed civil unions as well as marriage, and voided the licenses of over 8,000 same-sex couples who have married since the Supreme Judicial Court ruling took effect in May, 2004.

That measure was defeated 196 to 0.

The second measure would end same-sex marriage but leave existing ones in place.

Had the legislators adjourned the session instead of recessing it, Gov. Mitt Romney, a marriage opponent, could have forced them back into session.

By recessing, lawmakers tied Romeny�s hands until the session�s final day, leaving no time for Romney to call an emergency session and force them to vote on the issue.

It is possible that not enough legislators will return on the day after the New Year holiday to have a quorum, or that they will reconvene on January 2 and then adjourn.

�The legislature was under intense pressure to allow the ballot question to advance, yet they stood with gay and lesbian citizens and refused to be bullied by simplistic slogans and national right-wing groups,� said Lee Swislow, executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the organization that supported the Goodridge v. Department of Public Health suit that resulted in full marriage rights in the state.

�We�ve seen in the past two and a half years that marriage equality is good for families, communities and the state,� Swislow continued.

�For all intents and purposes, the debate is over,� Rep. Byron Rushing told the New York Times. �What members are expecting is that the majority of constituents are going to say, �Thank you, we�re glad it�s over, and we think it has been discussed enough.� �

A same-sex marriage proponent, Deval L. Patrick, was elected two days earlier as the state�s first Democratic governor in 16 years, perhaps signaling that voters in the state are unhappy with the anti-gay rhetoric from the governor�s office.

Romney was not running for reelection, but his opposition to the Supreme Judicial Court ruling in the Goodridge case may have cost Kerry Healey, his lieutenant governor, votes in the left-leaning state.

 

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