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Mass. marriage amendment may be dead after another delay

BOSTON (BP)–Massachusetts legislators recessed a constitutional convention Nov. 9 without voting on a citizen-backed marriage amendment, a disheartening move for conservatives that likely killed the proposal for good.

The amendment needed the support of only one-fourth (50) of the legislators, and amendment backers had said for months they had the votes. But legislators never voted on it. Before they got the chance, a motion to recess until Jan. 2 — the last day of the session — prevailed, 109-87. It is the second time this year a vote has been delayed. Legislators also voted in July to delay a vote.

Both sides of the debate expect legislators to take the same action Jan. 2, which would kill the amendment for good. House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, a Democrat, has led the charge to defeat the amendment through the procedural tactics.

Beginning in 2005, pro-family groups, including VoteonMarriage.org, collected 170,000 signatures — nearly three times the number required — to place the amendment before the legislature. If adopted, it effectively would reverse the 2003 ruling by the state high court legalizing “gay marriage.”

Lisa Bartlow, a spokeswoman for VoteonMarriage.org, said opponents of the amendment are “running out the clock” and that their action is unconstitutional.

“The constitution calls on a vote on all amendments of this type,” Bartlow told Baptist Press. “… They’re experts at trickery, unfortunately. They did this in such a way that we can’t really say that they’ve killed it, because, technically they have not yet. We can say that on Jan. 2.”

The amendment needs the support of one-fourth of legislators in two consecutive sessions before it can appear on the ballot. But because supporters have the votes, opponents have looked for other tactics to defeat it.

Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, an amendment supporter who is in the final weeks of his administration, had threatened to call the legislators back into session if they adjourned without voting on the amendment. But because they technically delayed a vote instead adjourning, he may not be able to do so, legislative officials told The Globe.

In a news conference, Romney pointed to the state constitution, which says citizen-driven amendments in the legislature “shall be voted upon.”

“[T]oday, by effectively avoiding the constitutionally required vote on same-sex marriage, 109 legislators disgraced their oath of office,” Romney said Nov. 9. “Each of them swore to follow the constitution…. By not voting, we have witnessed the triumph of arrogance over democracy. Whether or not you favor same-sex marriage, you should be very concerned that the rule of law and the sovereignty of the people have been trampled.”

Romney further said his options are “limited,” but that his administration would “explore any alternatives that may exist to protect the constitutional rights of the people.”

Amendment supporters had hoped legislators would vote on the amendment before the election so that citizens concerned about the issue could know where their legislators stood.

In an editorial Nov. 10, the Eagle-Tribune newspaper in North Andover, Mass., blasted the legislators’ action.

“Legislators were not being asked to approve or disapprove of gay marriage but merely to give the people the ability to decide the controversial matter for themselves,” the editorial stated. “But our legislators, through their cowardly actions, have shown they don’t trust the people who elected them.

“A State House News poll Sunday showed 56 percent of respondents want the gay marriage amendment on the ballot even though 63 percent say they would vote against the question if it were. Clearly, that means that even some supporters of gay marriage believe the matter should be decided by voters. But for our legislators, democracy is too much of a gamble.”

The legislature also adjourned in 2002 without voting on a constitutional marriage amendment that had been placed before the body through the petition process. That came a year before the state high court issued its landmark ruling.

“The legislature, if it favors gay marriage, has always had the ability to pass a law making same-sex unions legal,” the Eagle-Tribune editorial stated. “But that would have required legislators to stand up and place their names next to a vote. In the end, they found it easier to avoid that responsibility by ignoring the question. The whole affair has been a sham from the outset.”

Bartlow urged Massachusetts citizens to call their legislator prior to the Jan. 2 vote.

“Really, the only change we’re going to see is when the citizens start to hold these legislators accountable for really disrespecting them and breaking their solemn oath to uphold the constitution,” she said.
— A list of how Massachusetts legislators voted on the recess motion is available at: https://cbs4boston.com/local/local_story_313210320.html.
— A list of contact information for Massachusetts House members is available at: https://www.mass.gov/legis/memmenuh.htm.
— A list of contact information for Massachusetts Senate members is available at: https://www.mass.gov/legis/memmenus.htm.

For more information about the national debate over “gay marriage,” visit https://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust