Massachusetts Lawmakers reject Anti-Gay Amendment
by Michael J. Meade 365Gay.com Boston Bureau
(Boston, Massachusetts) A joint session of the House and Senate on Wednesday rejected a proposed amendment that would ban same-sex marriage while allowing civil unions, but another anti-gay amendment looms on the horizon.
Today's vote was the second of a two part process to get the proposal onto the ballot in 2006.
With less than two hours of debate lawmakers voted 157-39 against the measure.
Last March when it passed the first phase, it did so by only a handful of votes and after heated debate. (story) Many Democrats opposed the measure and many Republicans who object to gay marriage voted against it because it would permit civil unions.
But as more and more same-sex couples married in Massachusetts support for the measure dwindled.
"Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry," said state Sen. Brian Lees, an East Longmeadow Republican who had been a co-sponsor of the amendment. "This amendment which was an appropriate measure or compromise a year ago, is no longer, I feel, a compromise today."
But, even as some lawmakers like Lees decided to support gay marriage, those who continued to support the amendment came under pressure from a group opposed to same-sex marriage.
The Massachusetts Family Institute spent most of Tuesday lobbying members of both houses who had voted for the amendment last year, calling on them to vote against the measure this time.
The MFI has its own amendment it wants to put to voters in 2008 that would ban both gay marriage and civil unions.
"We certainly know there were a number of people who voted against [the proposed amendment] because they support the MFI amendment to deny any rights to gay families," Joshua Legg of Freedom to Marry told 365Gay.com.
"But we also know that at at least 40 of those who changed their votes over the last year did so because they've seen gay families now support equal marriage rights."
Earlier this month Attorney General Tom Reilly certified the language in the conservative group's effort. (story) It already has the support of Republican Gov. Mitt Romney. (story)
Reilly's action allowed the MFI to begin collecting the signatures of at least 65,825 Massachusetts voters required to put the issue before voters.
The organization told lawmakers it feared having both anti-gay amendments in competition.
Even if the MFI gets enough signatures the proposed amendment would still need to return to a joint session of the legislature. But, with a citizen based referendum the amendment needs the support of only 50 lawmakers - 25 percent of the House and Senate - in two constitutional conventions for it to be put to voters.
One of those lawmakers is already making it known he will vote for the MFI amendment if it reaches the legislature.
"The union of two women and two men can never consummate a marriage. It's physically impossible. We can't get around that. You can be a family, absolutely. You can be loving, and I respect that absolutely. But you're not married," said Rep. Phil Travis, D-Rehoboth. "The other 49 states are right and we are wrong."
LGBT rights groups are bracing for a fight.
"We realize today there is still a work to be done," Legg said. "But, people are not going to lie down and be walked over in the Commonwealth."
Hundreds of people both in favor and against same-sex marriage filled the State House Wednesday, but their numbers were far fewer than the 10,000 that packed hallways a year ago.
Tuesday hundreds of same-sex couples were also at the State House lobbying lawmakers.
The outcome of today's vote was not a surprise. Last weekend the Associate Press released a survey of legislators found a majority planned to vote against the amendment. (story)
The possibility of a constitutional amendment arose after the Supreme Judicial Court ruled it was illegal to prevent same-sex couples from marrying.
Since then about 6,500 gay and lesbian couples have married in Massachusetts