The EFM Feature

That’s what Gov. Romney is calling the latest news coming out of Massachusetts regarding gay marriage. Apparently a “constitutional convention” of the legislature has once again refused to consider a constitutional amendment banning future gay marriages–and their failure to even vote might be unconstitutional itself. Here is the Boston Globe’s take:

State lawmakers yesterday again refused to vote on a proposed ban on same-sex marriages, a move that activists on both sides said effectively killed any chance that the measure would appear on the 2008 statewide ballot.
The House and Senate, meeting in a special joint session, voted to recess before taking up a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would limit the legal definition of marriage to the union of one man and one woman. Lawmakers voted to adjourn the session until Jan. 2, the last official day of the session.
The 109-87 vote to recess dealt a crushing blow to opponents of same-sex marriage looking to override the landmark court decision three years ago that put Massachusetts on the vanguard of gay rights. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in a 4-3 decision in 2003 that gays and lesbians could legally marry under the state constitution.
“It’s over; it’s over,” said Arline Isaacson, cochairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. “It would make no sense to come back and debate it all over again. What’s the point? They don’t have the votes to stop same-sex marriage.”
Gay marriage opponents, including Governor Mitt Romney, angrily accused lawmakers of willfully denying the public a chance to vote on an amendment that had the support of more than 170,000 people who signed petitions to get it on the ballot.
“This is the Constitution of Massachusetts,” said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. “The constitution says that this Legislature has the obligation to take final action on our amendment.”
“They just trashed it,” Mineau said, throwing the constitution to the ground.
The vote followed daylong rallies outside the State House by hundreds of activists on both sides of the issue. They lined up on opposite sides of Beacon Street, with signs, costumes, and makeshift drums.
Lawmakers decided not to formally adjourn the Constitutional Convention, legislative sources said, because Romney could have ordered the Legislature back into session over the next two months. By recessing, the lawmakers may have prevented Romney from calling them back to vote on the measure.
Shortly after the vote, Romney called a press conference and blasted the 109 lawmakers who voted to recess, saying “we have witnessed the triumph of arrogance over democracy.”
“Today, by effectively avoiding the constitutionally required vote on same-sex marriage, 109 legislators disgraced their oath of office,” Romney said, adding that it was clear the intent was to kill the measure altogether.
Mineau urged Romney to take legal action to force a vote, but the governor acknowledged that because the Legislature had recessed instead of adjourning, he was probably powerless to do anything about it.
“My options are limited,” Romney said. “But we will explore any other alternatives that may exist to protect the constitutional rights of our citizens.”
Two days before the latest fight over gay marriage in Massachusetts, seven other states passed bans on same-sex marriage in Tuesday’s election, including Colorado, South Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Arizona voters narrowly rejected a ban.
But same-sex marriage opponents fear that other states will follow the lead of Massachusetts in letting gays and lesbians wed. Two weeks ago, New Jersey’s highest court ruled that same-sex couples were entitled to the same rights as heterosexual couples under state marriage statutes.
The Massachusetts ban needed the backing of at least one-quarter of state legislators in this year’s legislative session to advance to next year’s legislative session and, ultimately, to the 2008 ballot.
Legislative leaders had scheduled a joint session in July to take up the proposed ballot initiative–but then they put off the matter until two days after the general elections. Gay marriage opponents attempted to put a similar measure on the ballot in 2002, but legislative leaders adjourned and did not vote on it.
This time, House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage, marshaled his leadership team to collect votes to recess. They needed just 101 votes, far fewer than the 150 needed to kill the proposed ban outright.
Before voting to recess, lawmakers considered a different amendment that would have outlawed both same-sex marriage and civil unions, a measure that sparked more than 2 1/2 hours of emotional debate. That amendment was placed on the agenda by same-sex marriage supporters. They figured the more extreme measure would fail, but would give lawmakers a chance to voice their opinion.
“You don’t have to live next to us. You don’t have to like us,” state Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, an openly gay Cambridge Democrat, said in an emotional speech. “We are only asking you today to end the debate so that we can sleep easily knowing . . . that we will at least have the right to enjoy the same rights the rest of you have enjoyed for time immemorial.”
Proponents of the ban argued that regardless of how legislators felt about same-sex marriage, they ought to respect the wishes of the people who signed a petition to put it before voters in 2008.
“You don’t represent their vote; you represent their interest in allowing them to vote,” said Philip Travis, a Rehoboth Democrat who has been one of the leading legislative opponents of gay marriage.
Possible scenarios for the Legislature on Jan. 2 include: an up-or-down vote on the proposed ban; adjournment without taking the measure up; a filibuster by supporters of same-sex marriage until the session ends at midnight, or denial by same-sex marriage supporters of the quorum necessary to proceed.
A spokeswoman for Senate President Robert E. Travaglini said he expects the Legislature to vote on the amendment Jan. 2. But after the vote some same-sex marriage supporters said if Travaglini, who ran the constitutional convention, had really wanted an up-or-down vote, he would have pressed for one yesterday.
Travaglini insisted that he was against delaying the vote.
“I didn’t think it was the appropriate action to take,” he told State House News Service. “But I’m just one of the members in the Constitutional Convention.”
Travaglini told DiMasi and some senators yesterday that he would not entertain a filibuster on Jan. 2, a Senate source said.
The raucous scene outside the State House was reminiscent of many past legislative votes on gay marriage.
Supporters and opponents yelled, sang, chanted, and waved signs from either side of Beacon Street. The rallies were noisy but otherwise peaceful.
Ban supporters said they were livid about the recess strategy, which was reported in the morning’s Globe. Gathered on the Boston Common side of the street, they sang songs such as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and shouted, “Let the people vote!” One man held a massive helium balloon that said, “Jesus is Lord.”
“It’s subverting the will of the people,” said Bob McDonald, a community college professor from Danvers.
Angie Capomaccio, 77, of Andover, standing next to McDonald, held a sign that said, “Give God his rainbow back.”
“I know that, like other people, they’re good people,” she said. “But a marriage–that’s crossing the line.”

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

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