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BOSTON —The citizens’petition initiative for the protection of marriage, VoteOnMarriage.org, announced Nov. 28 that nearly 137,000 signatures had already been certified by city and town clerks’offices, twice the number required to move the initiative forward.
“The enthusiasm from this has been tremendous,”said Larry Cirignano, executive director of Catholic Citizenship, a non-partisan organization which coordinated the signature gathering process in the state’s Catholic dioceses.
Many towns had not yet finished certifying the petitions, which must be completed by Dec. 5. The petitions must be collected from all 351 towns in Massachusetts, photocopied, front and back, and turned over to the secretary of state by Dec. 7.
Some 70,000 signatures were gathered in Catholic churches during the drive, which took place from Sept. 21 to Nov. 23. According to Cirignano, very few Catholic churches in the state did not participate in the drive.
“We showed that Catholics alone in churches can gather enough signatures,”he said.
“Assuming that in the final count from the secretary of state’s office that we have 66,000 or more certified signatures, then the petition will be entered into the Legislature as a bill, not for law but for constitutional convention,”said Kris Mineau, a spokesman for VoteOnMarriage.org and president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.
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.”
The bill would have to be approved by 25 percent of legislators in two consecutive joint constitutional conventions. The earliest a convention could take place is May 2006. A quorum is required and both votes will need to gain the approval of at least 25 percent of legislators —half the number required to approve previous legislator initiated amendment efforts.
“We have enough legislators”who are willing to support the bill, said Cirignano. “The big thing is that we have to get the vote. [Senate President Robert E.] Travaglini and [House Speaker Salvatore F.] DeMasi have to allow a vote.”
But Cirignano does not anticipate that the vote will be blocked as it was in 2002 when then-Senate President Thomas Birmingham adjourned the 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.
“The court made the determination that it was illegal but that there was no remedy because it was too late. Presumably now there would be a remedy,”said Cirignano.
With the law properly outlined by the SJC, a pledge from Travaglini to allow the vote and a promise from Gov. Mitt Romney to call back the convention if the vote does not happen, Cirignano said he expects the vote to take place and be successful.
That would allow Massachusetts residents to vote on the definition of marriage on the 2008 ballot.
Mineau agreed, saying that although some legislators are “hostile”to the amendment, they must represent the people of Massachusetts, which should be their first priority.
“They represent the people, and the people are clearly speaking on this issue,”he said. “They should proceed with the constitutional convention and have a fair vote on this in the Legislature and to bring this forward to the people so that the people can vote.”
Once the petition effort is completed, the next step for supporters of marriage is to educate Massachusetts voters about the issue, added Cirignano.
“People need to start organizing in their parish, speaking with their legislators, talking about the marriage issue, talking with the people who didn’t sign,”he said.
People of faith who support the petition should pray for its success moving forward, added Mineau.
“As people of faith we should keep this first and foremost in our prayers because we do know that marriage is a glorious gift from God for one man and one woman,”he said. “We put those prayers to work by calling our legislators.”