BOSTON — The bishops of Massachusetts have joined in a new effort to amend the state constitution to restore the traditional definition of marriage in the Commonwealth.
The Coalition for Marriage and Family, an alliance of 20 state and national organizations including the Massachusetts Family Institute and Massachusetts Catholic Conference, announced the launch of a citizens’ initiative petition drive to amend the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The announcement came at a Statehouse press conference June 16.
Almost immediately afterward, Gov. Mitt Romney called his own press conference to announce his support of the effort.
Before the new Massachusetts Protection of Marriage Amendment can be brought before voters, supporters will need to gather nearly 66,000 signatures of Massachusetts residents. If that goal is met, the measure would need the support of 25 percent of the legislature to appear on the 2008 ballot.
Members of the coalition said they hope the introduction of the new amendment will lead to the defeat of the so-called Travaglini-Lees amendment currently being considered by the Legislature.
The Travaglini-Lees amendment would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman but also create a constitutional guarantee to same-sex civil unions.
Many supporters of traditional marriage find that proposal troubling, since a vote in favor of the traditional definition of marriage would also be a vote in favor of establishing same-sex civil unions which they find morally unacceptable.
"Asking citizens to vote on the Travaglini-Lees amendment is like asking them to vote for George Bush and John Kerry on the same ticket," said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute and spokesperson for the coalition. "We are convinced that the Travaglini-Lees amendment was drafted in a manner designed to fail both at the ballot box and in the courts."
The new proposed amendment would restore the traditional definition of marriage but leave the establishment of civil unions up to the legislature.
It reads simply, “When recognizing marriages entered after the adoption of this amendment by the people, the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall define marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.”
The proposed amendment will give Massachusetts residents “a clear up or down vote on the definition of marriage,” while also leaving room to address the needs of all citizens who are in “mutually-dependent, adult relationships that are ineligible for marriage,” Mineau said.
"We believe [same-sex] civil unions are discriminatory because they provide benefits only to a small segment of the population based on sexual preference, while there are many other citizens needing benefits who are in a non-sexual relationship. An example would be two elderly sisters living together or an uncle caring for a disabled nephew," Mineau added.
Significantly, the proposed amendment would not affect the status of marriages entered into before its enactment, but only ban future same-sex marriages.
Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage on May 17, 2004. Since that day, some 6,200 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples.
Maria Parker, interim director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, read a statement supporting the amendment on behalf of the bishops of the four dioceses of Massachusetts. The bishops were unable to attend the press conference because the announcement coincided with the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Chicago.
"Protecting marriage is more than preserving a name. The people deserve the opportunity to vote on marriage as a stand-alone issue," the bishops said in their statement. "This proposed amendment restores to our laws the traditional definition of marriage. To remain effective as society's primary institution for ensuring the well-being of children, marriage must be understood by government as a commitment involving one man and one woman."
Speaking on behalf of the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, Bishop Gilbert Thompson of the New Covenant Christian Church said that long before the institution of marriage was formed, God created the family, which is foundational to the health of society.
“I am critical of this socio-political experiment to redefine marriage and family. I believe it threatens the future health of our community in general and our children in particular,” he said. “I’ve weighed in on this issue because I cannot be silent while a few politicians and jurists, in the name of democratic equity, play hopscotch with the future of our children.”
"Cruel, inhumane, mean-spirited, anti-family, anti-marriage are the only words to describe the new anti-gay amendment being proposed by reactionary groups today," said Rabbi Devon Lerner, director of the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, in a statement released after the press conference.
"This amendment is an attack not only on gay and lesbian couples and their children, it is also an attack on liberal and mainstream faith traditions that allow religious marriage for same-sex couples. Marriage is a fundamental human right," she added.
Shortly after the coalition’s announcement, Gov. Mitt Romney held his own press conference to voice his support for the effort.
The new proposed amendment would present a “clean, straightforward, unambiguous” choice for voters who deserve to weigh in on the issue that was decided by a one-justice majority, he said.
"I hope the voters in Massachusetts get the chance that voters in 11 other states got last year, and that is the chance to preserve marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, which of course passed in all 11 states where it was taken to the voters. I'm convinced it will pass here," he said.
Romney said he originally supported the Travaglini-Lees amendment because he thought it would provide grounds to request a stay of same-sex marriages from the Supreme Judicial Court. The governor, however, was thwarted in that effort when Attorney General Thomas Reilly refused to argue the case.
Same-sex marriage has already caused legal confusion when it comes to custody of children and divorce in other states, but the long-range effects cannot be known, Romney said.
"The ideal setting for raising children is where there is a man and a woman, a mother and a father, and so the implications of same-sex marriage will only be measured over generations, not over years or months," he added.
[Editor’s note: More information on the new initiative is available at www.voteonmarriage.org or by calling 617-795-2667.]