Mass. Lawmakers recess without dealing with gay marriage
BOSTON – Massachusetts lawmakers ended debate on proposed constitutional amendments Wednesday before dealing with the most volatile issue on their agenda: a proposal to outlaw marriage for same-sex couples in the only state where it is legal.The move to recess until Nov. 9 put off the decision on the politically charged issue until after the general election.Senate President Robert Travaglini had said he intended to bring all 20 proposed amendments to a vote, but had warned lawmakers might not be able to get to every proposed amendment on Wednesday.The House gallery erupted in applause from gay-rights activists after the vote to recess was announced. Opponents, however, condemned lawmakers for postponing debate.”It’s a real cop-out,” said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. “Trying to get legislators back two days after an election is really asking for the moon. I think that is really disingenuous to pick that date.”Lawmakers, who voted on half the amendments before recessing, could have voted to extend their work into the night. Opponents of gay marriage had been optimistic that they had the votes to move a step closer to putting the amendment on the 2008 ballot, and gay-rights supporters were happy to get a reprieve.”We now have four more months to show legislators how well marriage equality is working in Massachusetts. We hope they will see that Massachusetts is ready to move on,” said Marc Solomon, campaign director for gay rights group MassEquality.If approved, the gay marriage amendment would block future gay marriages in Massachusetts. More than 8,000 same-sex couples have taken vows since gay marriages began in May 2004.To get on the ballot, the question must twice win the backing of 25 percent – or 50 – of the state’s 200 lawmakers: once during the current session and again during the session starting in January.Rep. Mike Festa, a Democrat and gay marriage supporter, said that most members wanted to vote on the issue, but that “it’s just that we have a lot of other business to do.”Hundreds of people on both sides of the issue rallied outside the Statehouse Wednesday as lawmakers made their way through a stack of proposed constitutional amendments dealing with everything from health care to redistricting.”I think this is an issue for the people to decide,” said Jonathan Gal, 39, of Lexington, wearing a sticker that read “Support One Man, One Woman.” “I don’t like the way this is being imposed on us by a small minority – the courts and the Legislature.”Across the street, supporters of same-sex unions cast the issue as one of civil rights.”When does civil rights get put on the ballot for everyone to vote on?” said Jim Singletary, 44, of Salem, who last year married his longtime partner, Jim Maynard.”This is for fairness for my family,” Maynard said.The debate came less than a week after New York’s highest court rejected same-sex couples’ bid to win marriage rights and Georgia’s high court reinstated that state’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.Gay marriage opponents in Massachusetts got a boost Monday from the Supreme Judicial Court, the same court that handed down the historic ruling legalizing gay marriage.The court ruled that the proposed amendment could go forward, provided it clear the remaining legislative hurdles. Gay marriage supporters had sued to block the question.Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay marriage, although neighboring Vermont and Connecticut allow same-sex civil unions that confer the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples.A judge in Connecticut on Wednesday ruled that gay and lesbian couples have not been harmed by the state’s decision to grant them civil unions but not marriage. Judge Patty Jenkins Pittman found that the difference is essentially one of semantics.”The Connecticut Constitution requires that there be equal protection and due process of law, not that there be equivalent nomenclature for such protection and process,” the judge wrote.The plaintiffs, eight same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses, plan to appeal to the state’s highest court.