Citizens urge legislators to uphold marriage petition

BOSTON — Dozens of voters lobbied their legislators at the Statehouse April 25 and encouraged senators and representatives to uphold a citizens initiative petition that would allow Massachusetts voters to define marriage in 2008.

The day’s events were organized by

Kris Mineau, a spokesman for and president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, addressed those gathered before they met with legislators, saying that the definition of marriage is such an important issue that only the people can determine it.

“We’re here on one issue alone,” he said. “Let the people vote.”

If the amendment receives 25 percent of two votes in joint consecutive constitutional conventions, it will appear on the ballot in 2008. If a majority of Massachusetts’ citizens vote in favor of the amendment, it will define marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the state constitution. The amendment would not invalidate existing same-sex marriages and leaves open the possibility of same-sex civil unions.

The text of the bill will read, “When recognizing marriages entered into after the adoption of this amendment by the people, the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall define marriage only as the union of one man and one woman.”

Mineau explained the initiative by comparing it to a baseball game, saying that the petition drive, which garnered 170,000 signatures was the most successful in the history of the Commonwealth.

“Our record 170,000 signatures, the greatest base hit in Massachusetts state history, got us on first base in the ballgame,” he said.

Second base is a vote that must be held in this year’s session of the constitutional convention, which ends in July, he added.

“That’s why we’re here today to ask those ladies and gentlemen who represent us to obey the constitution, to convene the convention and to hold an up or down vote on this amendment,” he said. “Anything else is unconstitutional.”

As a citizen-initiated amendment, the measure requires approval by 25 percent of the Legislature or 50 votes — half the number required to approve previous legislator-initiated amendment efforts. A quorum of 101 legislators is also required for a vote to take place.

In 2002, then-Senate President Thom-as Birmingham adjourned a constitutional convention without a vote on a legislator-initiated amendment to protect marriage. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2003 that Birmingham’s action was not legal.

With the law properly outlined by the SJC, a pledge from Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, D-Boston, to allow the vote, and a promise from Gov. Mitt Romney to call back the convention if the vote does not happen, Mineau said he hopes the vote will take place and be successful.

“If we make it safe to third next year, then home plate is Election Day 2008 when all the registered voters will have the opportunity to vote on the definition of marriage. We have to make every base, or we’re out of the game,” he said.

After the petition signatures were submitted to the secretary of state’s office, the organization Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD, filed suit and challenged the language of the amendment.

GLAD contends the amendment violated a constitutional provision, which prohibits amendments intended to reverse a judicial decision. Mineau responded to that allegation by saying that the defendants in the case and all others married following the Goodridge decision, which established same-sex marriage in 2004, would remain married. The oral arguments in the case begin on May 4, he said.

Mineau also mentioned that although this amendment prevents same-sex couples from entering into marriage in the future, other legislation could provide benefits for those couples. Recently, State Rep. Phillip Travis, D-Rehoboth, proposed the Benefits Fairness Act, which would extend many benefits to adults ineligible for marriage, including same-sex couples.

Mineau encouraged even those who were persons of faith to be in an “attitude of prayer” during the lobby day. Marriage is the glue that holds society together, and a man and woman united in matrimony reflect the image of God, he said.

“God help any society that turns its back on that model,” he added.

Daniel Avila, associate director of public policy for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, stressed the importance of the lobby day. As a practical matter, if the people want to vote on marriage, they need to ask for a vote, he said.

“Unless the people ask for a vote, it would be difficult for legislators to give them the right to vote,” he added.

Rep. Jeff Perry, R-Sandwich, encouraged those lobbying and stressed that they should not be intimidated by their legislators. Rather, they should hold their elected officials accountable.

“You are on the front of a war. You’re right on the front lines,” he said. “What happens in the next three weeks is going to mean a lot to the future of our Commonwealth, to the future of our nation. It’s a critical time.”

“It’s refreshing to have you here today to help us who support traditional marriage to spread that word,” he added.

After a prayer, those gathered dispersed to speak with their representatives. Tom Jordan from Plainville and Carol Zimmer from Norfolk traveled together with two others from their district. They met with Rep. Richard J. Ross, R-Wrentham, who said he supported the people’s right to vote on the issue of marriage.

Zimmer said she was glad to have the opportunity to speak with her elected officials and have her voice heard. This was the first time she had participated in the democratic process, except for voting, she said.

“This is a wonderful day of democracy in action,” she added.

Jordan said that the issue of the definition of marriage is so important because those who are pushing same-sex marriage are asking society to accept same-sex relationships as equal to marriage.

“We are losing moral and ethical ground,” he said. “Our children are being affected by this.”

Jordan said he felt it was important to stand up in support of the issue, especially because he is Catholic.

“This is just too important. It has to be addressed now,” he said. “We need that vote.”