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Mass. amendment supporters sue legislators in fed. court

WORCESTER, Mass. (BP)–Supporters of a proposed constitutional marriage amendment in Massachusetts filed a federal lawsuit Dec. 13 against state legislators in an effort to keep the proposal on track for the 2008 ballot.

Legislators have met three times this year but have recessed each time without voting on the amendment, which both supporters and opponents say has the votes for passage. It must pass the legislature twice in order to make it to the ballot.

The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court’s Massachusetts Central Division asks the court to declare the legislators’ actions unconstitutional and to advance the amendment to the next legislative session. The suit names the 109 legislators who voted to recess during the latest constitutional convention in November.

Legislators are scheduled to meet again Jan. 2 on the last day of the legislative session, but both sides expect opponents to try and adjourn without voting. Such a move would kill the amendment, which received approximately 170,000 signatures to quality it for legislative action. The amendment essentially would reverse the 2003 ruling by the Massachusetts high court legalizing “gay marriage.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of VoteonMarriage.org and 10 petition signees, asserts the legislators’ actions violated supporters’ U.S. Constitutional rights to free speech, to petition the government, to vote and to due process of law.

“Defendants intend, by thwarting a vote on this initiative through administrative delay and denial tactics, to prevent the Plaintiffs and the people of Massachusetts from exercising their right to amend the state constitution,” the complaint reads.

Article 48 of the Massachusetts constitution, the complaint asserts, “requires” legislators “to vote on a proposed citizen initiative.” Article 48 says, in part, citizen-driven amendments in the legislature “shall be voted upon.”

The lawsuit also asks the court to award compensatory and punitive damages to amendment supporters, who, the complaint says, spent in excess of $500,000 to gather the signatures. A jury should determine the exact amount awarded amendment supporters, the complaint states.

“Elected officials should be held accountable when they deliberately violate the law,” ADF attorney Glen Lavy said. “We’re in big trouble if the people who have sworn to uphold the Constitution can ignore it with impunity once they’re in office. Holding elected office does not mean that a person is above the law.”

It is the second lawsuit filed in the last month related to the proposed amendment. In November, Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney filed suit at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court — the highest court in the state — asking the justices to place the amendment on the ballot if legislators fail to act. The court will hear oral arguments Dec. 20.

The Massachusetts constitution requires citizen-driven petitions receive the support of only one-fourth of all legislators in two consecutive sessions in order to quality for the ballot. Supporters say they have more than that.
For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage.

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  • Michael Foust