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Lawmakers sued over recess vote


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BOSTON -- Traditional marriage supporters have filed a federal lawsuit against the 109 legislators who voted to recess the constitutional convention Nov. 9 without voting on the marriage amendment. The convention will reconvene on Jan. 2, the last day of the legislative session.

The primary plaintiff is VoteOnMarriage.org, the ballot initiative committee that has organized the citizens’ petition. The petition seeks to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman in the state constitution.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, holds the legislators personally liable as individuals for their actions. The 109 legislators have violated the U.S. Constitution and their oaths of office, according to VoteOnMarriage.org and 10 additional plaintiffs, individual citizens who are signers of the marriage petition.

“We are alleging that the 109 legislators are violating the First and 14th Amendments of the federal Constitution,” said Lisa Barstow, spokesperson for VoteOnMarriage.org. “We’re confident that they have in letter and spirit violated their oath by taking the action they’ve taken.”

The lawmakers have violated the First Amendment by violating the plaintiff’s rights to free speech and their rights to petition the government. They have violated the 14th Amendment by hindering the plaintiffs’ rights to vote and to due process, the lawsuit contends.

Lawmakers are required by Article 48 of the state constitution to vote on all citizen initiative petitions, Barstow said.

Barstow went on to say that those 109 legislators have demonstrated, by their behavior and statements to both the press and their constituents, that they have no intention of voting on the matter. They consider the vote to recess as a final action, she said.

“The Legislature will reconvene in constitutional convention on Jan. 2 where observers believe debate on the marriage amendment will be filibustered until the clock runs out,” said a Dec. 13 VoteOnMarriage.org statement.

VoteOnMarriage.org is still hopeful that the Legislature will take a vote on Jan. 2, Barstow said.

“We simply want justice. The citizens of Massachusetts deserve nothing less than a vote,” she said. “If they vote, we’ll drop the charges. That’s really what we want here.”

If the legislators do not vote, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are asking the federal court to declare that as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. They are also requesting that the court waive the ability of the legislators to oppose the amendment and want the court to force those legislators to refund the money spent on the petition as well as punitive damages.

VoteOnMarriage.org estimates the cost of the petition drive at $500,000.

Another lawsuit was filed on Nov. 24 in state court by Gov. Mitt Romney and 10 other plaintiffs. The lawsuit asks the Supreme Judicial Court to bypass the Legislature if elected representatives fail to vote on the marriage amendment.

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