Marriage amendment not affected by election, says Church official

BOSTON -- Despite a shift in the Massachusetts governor’s seat, the political landscape on Beacon Hill remains largely unchanged after the Nov. 7 election, said a Massachusetts Church official.

As had been anticipated, Democrat Deval Patrick cruised to an easy victory over Republican Lieutenant Gov. Kerry Healey on Election Day. Meanwhile, among legislators, all incumbents who sought reelection but one retained their seats.

According to Massachusetts Catholic Conference director Edward Saunders, legislative support for the marriage amendment -- a key issue for the bishops of Massachusetts -- remains strong enough to assure its passage in 2007.

The current legislature is scheduled to vote on the amendment at a constitutional convention Nov. 9. However, the measure must also be approved by the Legislature next year. If 25 percent of legislators approve the measure at both conventions, the question will appear on the 2008 ballot., a coalition formed to allow the people of Massachusetts to vote on the definition of marriage, announced Nov. 8 that “sufficient support in the state legislature for the people’s right to vote on marriage will continue into 2007.”

In an interview with The Pilot, Saunders agreed that changes in the state Legislature have not significantly changed support for the marriage amendment.

As many as five supporters of traditional marriage may have been replaced by supporters of same-sex marriage but, according to Saunders, there is still a solid majority that will support the amendment next year.

In the governor’s office, the changes will be more apparent. The Governor-elect Patrick’s strong position on abortion rights, same-sex marriage and embryonic stem-cell research-- stand in stark contrast with the more pro-life, pro-traditional marriage views of his predecessor as well as many principles of the Catholic Church.

Despite the apparent ideological divide, Saunders said that he was encouraged by Patrick’s acceptance speech in which he spoke of building bridges across differences.

In his speech, Patrick said he would serve as governor of the whole Commonwealth, not as the governor “of the winners,” and encouraged the crowd to “build bridges with supporters of the competing campaigns.”

“They are our neighbors, too. They are a part of this community, too. They have a stake in a fair and purposeful government, just like the rest of us,” Patrick said.

Saunders said, “We look forward to having the opportunity to speak with him and work with him, and where we have differences build bridges and see if we can come to some type of agreement for the good of all the citizens of the Commonwealth as well as the Church.”

During the campaign, Patrick emphasized his support for embryonic stem-cell research, which is opposed by the Catholic Church because it destroys human life in the process of harvesting the cells.

But Saunders downplayed the role the next governor will play in promoting public funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Efforts in procuring public funding for the controversial research are already underway in the Legislature and would proceed, “no matter who is elected,” he said.

At a Nov. 8 press conference, Patrick reiterated his support of same-sex marriage.

Asked if the defeat of the Romney administration could be seen as a setback for the efforts to support traditional marriage, Saunders dismissed it saying that the Church’s support is based on principle and the popular support for traditional marriage remains strong.

“We have to remember that there are 170,000 people who signed the marriage petition indicating that they wanted to have a say in the definition of marriage and that definition being that marriage is the union between one man and one woman. Those 170,000 people were not voted out of office yesterday,” he said.

“I don’t think that because we have a democratic governor and we lost some seats we abandon this effort. We have to look at it not based upon who we have to deal with but that what we do is right according to the Church’s teachings.”

Although Patrick’s positions run contrary to core Catholic principles on some issues he has common ground with the Church on others, Saunders said. Patrick’s positions are similar to those expressed by the Massachusetts bishops on issues such as capital punishment, education and immigration.

“He also shares our view that the authorizing of slot machines at the race track is not the answer to helping the unemployment situation,” he said.

Saunders underscored that he is hopeful that the Massachusetts Catholic Conference will be able to work with the new governor for the common good of all citizens.

“We are looking forward to talking with him. His quote about building bridges across differences gives us optimism that we will be able to work with him,” he said.