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The bishops of Massachusetts are backing a new ballot initiative campaign to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman in the Massachusetts Constitution. If approved, the amendment would not invalidate existing same-sex marriages.
The new campaign was scheduled to be announced June 16 at a press conference to be held at the Statehouse. A column explaining the plan was released to Massachusetts diocesan newspapers in advance of the press conference.
Marriage is currently defined by common law in Massachusetts as “the voluntary union of two persons as spouses, to the exclusion of all others.”
That definition of marriage was coined when the Supreme Judicial Court, in its 2003 landmark decision — in the case of Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health — ordered officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The initiative to uphold traditional marriage is sponsored by VoteOnMarriage.org, a coalition that includes, in addition to the MCC, the Massachusetts Family Institute and the Coalition for Marriage and Family.
The text of the new ballot amendment reads: “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 constitutional amendment would not affect the status of marriages entered into before its enactment, but it would impede new same-sex marriages in the future.
“Legislators advised marriage defenders that any amendment affecting current same-sex marriages would be ‘dead on arrival’ in the State House,” the MCC column says.
In addition, the new proposed amendment leaves open the question of same-sex civil unions.
“The complex task of fashioning benefits and determining which persons should receive them would remain with the legislature,” the column says.
After three contentious rounds of constitutional convention in the early months of 2004, the Legislature approved a proposed amendment that would limit marriage to heterosexual couples but, at the same time, create a constitutional guarantee of same-sex civil unions that would be identical to marriage under state law in all aspects but name.
If the measure, known as the Travaglini-Lees amendment, is approved by legislators once again this year, it could appear on the popular ballot in 2006.
According to its statement, the MCC and other traditional marriage supporters hope that the new initiative will lead to the defeat of the Travaglini-Lees amendment.
The passing of the Travaglini-Lees amendment “would cause an objectionable wrong — the new legal status of civil unions for same-sex couples — to come into being. The new amendment must be preferred over the Travaglini amendment,” the column says.
Signatures for the new ballot petition will be collected between September 21 and November 23. Supporters will have to gather at least 66,000 signatures to bring the petition to the 2006 legislative session. The initiative will have to be approved by at least 51 state representatives at two different constitutional conventions. If all the requirements are fulfilled, it could be placed in the 2008 ballot.
This is not the first time that a signature petition is carried on in defense of traditional marriage.
In the fall of 2001, over 130,000 Massachusetts voters signed a petition to place a protection of marriage amendment before the state legislature. Then-Senate President Thomas Birmingham twice used parliamentary maneuvers to avert a vote on the amendment, first by rescheduling the Constitutional Convention and then by abruptly adjourning the convention before the measure could be voted upon.
Vermont enacted a same-sex civil union law in 2000 after a Vermont State Judicial Court decision forced the recognition on the legislature. In Connecticut, the state legislature recently approved a civil union law.
Massachusetts is the only state in the Union that recognizes same-sex marriages.
Since same-sex marriages were approved in Massachusetts, 13 states passed ballot measures to amend state constitutions to preserve the institution of marriage.
Currently 18 states protect the traditional understanding of marriage in their constitutions. Twenty-six other states have statutory language in their state laws in the same tone. Only Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Rhode Island lack legal language that defines marriage as a heterosexual union.
But the push to redefine marriage is not only a U.S. phenomenon.
In Canada, the Courts have forced the recognition of same-sex marriages in several provinces, and in Europe same-sex marriages are legal in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Currently Spain is in the process of legalizing same-sex marriage, a move by the socialist government that is being contested by several civic groups, including the Catholic Church.
The Vatican has responded to this new cultural trend with a 2003 document called “Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons,” signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In the document, the Congregation re-affirmed the Church’s teaching that “homosexuality is a troubling moral and social phenomenon,” and asked politicians “to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions.”
Pope Benedict XVI, June 6 called same-sex marriage “pseudo marriage,” and an expression of “anarchical freedom.”
Also, the American bishops have publicly opposed granting same-sex couples the benefits of marriage. They have also called for a federal constitutional amendment to protect marriage.
In a 2003 statement called “Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions,” they said that marriage between a man and a woman is God’s plan, seen in nature and in divine revelation.
Marriage, whose nature and purposes are established by God, can only be the union of a man and a woman and must remain such in law,” it says.
“A same-sex union contradicts the nature of marriage,” it says. “It is not based on the natural complementarity of male and female; it cannot cooperate with God to create new life; and the natural purpose of sexual union cannot be achieved by a same-sex union.”
Speaking of the social importance of preserving marriage, it says: “Across times, cultures and very different religious beliefs, marriage is the foundation of the family. The family, in turn, is the basic unit of society. Thus, marriage is a personal relationship with public significance.”
It adds, “The state rightly recognizes this relationship as a public institution in its laws because the relationship makes a unique and essential contribution to the common good.”
CNS materials contributed to this story