New Senate president commits to vote on marriage amendment

BOSTON--The day after her election as Senate president, Sen. Therese Murray, promised not to thwart the marriage amendment through political maneuvers.

“There has to be another vote. Under the Constitution we have to take it up one more time,” she told WBZ radio the day after her election.

Murray replaced Senate President Robert E. Travaglini who resigned his post March 23 to pursue a career in the private sector. Murray became the first female Senate president in the history of Massachusetts.

Murray’s comments come in the aftermath of one of the most contentious periods in recent Statehouse history.

During the last legislative session, the Legislature voted twice to recess the constitutional convention before voting on a proposed amendment to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman. After the Supreme Judicial Court reminded legislators of their obligation to vote on the proposed amendment, the legislature voted 62-134 to move the amendment forward on Jan. 2.

The amendment must receive 25 percent of a second vote -- 50 votes -- in the 2007 legislative session to appear on the 2008 ballot. The amendment would not invalidate the more than 8,000 same-sex marriages that have already taken place in Massachusetts.

The next legislative session is scheduled for May 9.

Edward Saunders, director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference welcomed Murray’s commitment to vote on the amendment.

“We are pleased and encouraged by her remarks regarding the process for the constitutional convention, in particular her addressing the issue of the marriage amendment,” he said.

“The process requires an up or down vote on the amendment. We look forward to that taking place.”

However, Murray, D-Plymouth, does not support the amendment and said she would work with same-sex marriage advocates to defeat it. Unlike her predecessor, Murray voted against the amendment in January.

“My vote is going to be just what it was the last time,” she said on March 22 while on her way into her first formal Senate session as president. “But I’m not going to move to adjourn. I will call for a vote, and I will try to help the [same-sex marriage] advocates get the votes that they need.”

Same-sex marriage supporters welcomed the prospect of her assistance.

“We’re looking forward to closely working with her and her leadership team to defeat this discriminatory amendment,” said Marc Solomon, campaign director for gay-rights group MassEquality. “Sen. Murray has been a longtime supporter of marriage equality.”

For Saunders, Murray’s personal opposition to the amendment stresses the need for supporters of traditional marriage to step up the grass root efforts to convince legislators to vote in favor of the amendment.

“People are going to have to work harder around their elected officials to tell them to vote to let the people vote.”

During the 2006 legislative session, lawmakers twice voted to recess without taking up a vote on the citizens’ initiative petition, which garnered 170,000 signatures, the largest number in state history. Before the last vote to recess on Nov. 9, legislators discussed the marriage issue for several hours before recessing to the final day of the legislative session, Jan. 2.

Traditional marriage supporters were outraged and two groups sought legal recourse. Gov. Mitt Romney, acting as a private citizen, along with 10 other plaintiffs filed suit on Nov. 24, asking the state’s highest court to bypass the Legislature and move the amendment forward if elected representatives failed to vote on the marriage amendment.

Then, in December,, the ballot initiative committee that has organized the citizens’ petition for the amendment, filed suit in federal court against the 109 lawmakers who voted to recess. The lawsuit maintained that legislators were personally liable as individuals for their actions. According to and 10 additional plaintiffs, the 109 legislators violated the U.S. Constitution and their oaths of office.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled on the Romney suit Dec. 27, saying that legislators had the constitutional duty to vote up or down on the amendment. However, the court also said that, because of constitutional separation of powers, it could not force legislators to vote.

AP materials contributed to this report