Demonstrators on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate lined the street in front of the Massachusetts Statehouse Nov. 9. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy
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BOSTON -- The Catholic bishops of Massachusetts said they are “deeply disturbed” by the state Legislature’s move on Nov. 9 to squelch a proposed amendment that would limit future same-sex marriages by recessing the constitutional convention without voting.
“The effort to silence the people through inaction and delay has no place in democracy,” they said in a Nov. 14 statement.
“Citizens of the commonwealth have exercised their right to initiate the petition process afforded to them by our state constitution, and they have complied with the law at every step,” they added. “Our public servants have no less of an obligation to follow the law by bringing the Marriage Amendment to a legislative vote.”
On Nov. 9 the joint session of the legislature voted 109-87 to recess until the last day of the legislative session on Jan. 2 at 2 p.m. They did not vote on the citizen’s initiative petition aimed to allow voters to decide the definition of marriage.
The petition garnered 170,000 signatures, the largest number in state history, and needs to receive 25 percent of the vote in two consecutive joint sessions of the legislature before it can appear on the ballot in 2008. If successful, it would amend the constitution to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman. It would not invalidate existing same-sex marriages nor rule out the possibility of civil unions.
The coalition behind the petition drive, VoteOnMarriage.org, has said that their lawyers and strategists are looking into options to compel the Legislature to take up the vote on the issue. The group announced plans for a Nov. 19 rally with Gov. Mitt Romney on the steps of the Statehouse to urge legislators to act on the Marriage Amendment.
“Each of those 109 legislators personally broke their oath of office and violated the constitution with the clear intention of never taking a vote on the people’s business,” said VoteOnMarriage.org spokesperson Kris Mineau, referring to those legislators who voted to recess. “We’ll continue to fight until justice and democracy rule in Massachusetts for all citizens.”
Ed Saunders, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, told The Pilot that the MCC is also working to find legal and political options.
“Every possible means to move this people’s amendment is being looked at right now,” he said.
Saunders added that voters should contact their legislators, both those who voted to recess and those who did not. The 87 legislators who voted to continue the debate deserve to be thanked, he said.
Both supporters of traditional and same-sex marriage gathered outside the Statehouse on Nov. 9 long before legislators began meeting. Members on each side held signs and spent much of the day cheering for their position. Same-marriage supporters yelled “What do we want? Equality. When do we want it? Now,” while traditional marriage supporters responded with “Let the people vote.”
Inside the legislators started the constitutional convention at 1 p.m., and began speaking about a legislative amendment that would nullify the over 8,000 existing same-sex marriages at 3 p.m. Over a dozen legislators debated the amendment as well as the citizen’s initiative petition that was the next item on the agenda.
Same-sex marriage proponents focused on history and the future. They compared the “right” to same-sex marriage to the civil rights of black Americans and women’s right to vote.
“We are as out of step today as we were when Boston was leading the abolitionist movement,” said state Sen. Edward M. Augustus, Jr., D-Worcester.
State Rep. Thomas J. O’Brien, D-Kingston, urged legislators to think about how they want to be remembered by their children and grandchildren.
“We have the chance to grab history and make our mark,” he said.
Those who support traditional marriage said the legislative amendment submitted to the constitutional convention was a “smokescreen” designed to distract legislators from the citizen’s initiative petition.
Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, said that the legislative amendment was “unconstitutional,” saying that by invalidating existing same-sex marriages it would reverse the Goodridge decision that legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
“It should be soundly defeated,” he said.
Travis also correctly predicted that no one would support the legislative amendment, and it was defeated by a vote of 196-0.
Travis and Rep. Marie Parente D-Milford, urged legislators to vote on the citizen’s petition.
Parente said that the citizens of Massachusetts have the constitutional right to be heard. It took courage for 170,000 people to sign the petition and those people will take a dodge of the vote as a “personal insult,” she said.
Quickly after the legislative amendment was defeated, Rep. Byron Rushing, D-Boston, motioned to recess the meeting. The motion passed 109-87.
Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, asserted that the action was legal and that legislators had taken a “principled stand on marriage” by voting to recess.
“This is legal. This is ethical, and we really think it’s right,” she said.
Mineau and others made their disapproval of the Legislature’s actions clear, calling it a “travesty.”
“The people have been denied to have their voice heard,” he said. “Nothing is going to happen on Jan. 2. We know that.”
“If it’s put up to a fair vote, by the constitution, it will pass, hands down,” he added.
Mineau also urged Gov. Mitt Romney to get involved. The governor held a press conference at the Statehouse a half-hour later.
Romney said the Legislature chose their move wisely by recessing instead of adjourning the session.
“The reason that there’s a recess instead of an adjournment is so that I cannot call them back into session,” he said.
He said those legislators who voted to recess had “disgraced their oath of office” and have a responsibility to “favor the rule of law.”
Romney also asserted that he too is looking for legal and political options to ensure that the Legislature votes on the marriage amendment.