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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
January 5, 2007

Marriage is in danger

Lawmakers pass amendment to end
Massachusetts vows

Boston--Massachusetts lawmakers have advanced a constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage in the only state that allows it.

The measure would trump a 2003 court ruling that said gays and lesbians are entitled to marry.

In the waning hours of the legislative session on January 2, lawmakers meeting in a joint �constitutional convention� approved the measure twice. Needing only 50 votes, it first got 61, though 132 voted against it.

Opponents quickly moved to reconsider it, which was turned into a motion to briefly recess. Upon return, the reconsideration was back on the table. It passed 117 to 75 and a second vote was taken.

The final amendment vote was 62 yeas and 134 nays.

The amendment began with 170,000 signatures collected by an anti-marriage group, Vote on Marriage. It needs approval by only a quarter of two consecutive legislative sessions--50 votes--to be placed on the 2008 ballot.

Tuesday�s vote sends it to the next session, which begins next week. Another constitutional convention can be scheduled anytime before July 31, 2008.

But the measure�s opponents were cautiously optimistic, pointing out that last November�s election has already changed the legislature.

�Seven of the members who voted for the amendment will be gone next year,� said Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders spokesperson Carisa Cunningham, adding that they have been replaced with pro-marriage equality ones. That leaves only five more votes that need to be changed.

�And amendment supporters will no longer have an ally in the governor,� she continued.

Governor-elect Deval Patrick supports marriage, and urged lawmakers before Tuesday�s vote to adjourn without voting on the amendment. In a statement, Patrick argued against using the constitutional process to give a minority fewer freedoms than the majority.

His predecessor, Mitt Romney, is a strident marriage opponent who has made it a major issue as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination.

The January 2 vote happened in large part due to Romney�s maneuvering. The organizations promoting the amendment are believed to be connected to his presidential efforts.

�This was a defeat. We lost today,� said Cunningham, whose group won the 2003 marriage ruling and has been active in the fight to preserve it. �But the good news is that the majority of legislators stood with us, and that support has grown over the past few months. They have been gutsy.�

The legislature, including its leadership, is overwhelmingly in favor of continuing marriage equality, as is more than 60 percent of the population, according to polls.

This advantage has allowed lawmakers to kill similar amendments twice before with maneuvers like adjourning constitutional conventions without voting on them. These take only a simple majority vote, rather than the three-quarters needed to vote down the amendment itself.

The most recent of these exercises was in November, when lawmakers recessed to January 2 rather than vote on the measure.

Marriage supporters believed that this move had killed the amendment again, that recessing instead of adjourning kept Romney from calling lawmakers back into session, and that they would do nothing when they did meet.

But Romney sued to force a vote. The state supreme court ruled on December 27 that it can�t make lawmakers vote.

However, the justices scolded, the legislature�s avoidance of a vote is �indifference to, or defiance of, its constitutional duties.�

That changed things. Lawmakers who weren�t sure if the constitution required an actual vote on the amendment now had a court telling them that it did. Though they were once ready to dodge the vote again, now they became reluctant.

Cunningham said there is also a possibility that the amendment, if passed, would be at odds with the rest of the Massachusetts Constitution and could be challenged.

�It would be a nonsensical situation with three classes of people; heterosexuals who can marry, gays and lesbians who are married, and gays and lesbians who cannot marry,� Cunningham said.

While the amendment outlaws future same-sex marriages, it does not affect existing ones.

Both sides are promising to ratchet up their campaigns during the coming year.




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