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BEACON HILL -- Massachusetts legislators recessed their first constitutional convention of the 2007 legislative session May 9 without taking a vote on the marriage amendment.
The next constitutional convention is scheduled for June 14. Legislators said they recessed until that day in order to have more time for budget deliberations.
Kris Mineau, spokesman for VoteOnMarriage.org, the ballot initiative committee that has organized the citizens’ initiative petition, called the new date “reasonable.” Historically, the Legislature has always delayed the first meeting of the session, which is required by the state constitution to be held no later than the second Wednesday in May, he said.
“We’ll expect a vote on June 14,” he said. “The purpose of the constitutional convention is not to recess. The purpose of the constitutional convention is to vote.”
The citizens’ initiative petition, which seeks to define marriage as the union between one man and one woman in the state constitution, garnered 170,000 signatures, the most ever in Massachusetts history. The amendment then required the support of 25 percent of the joint Legislature at two consecutive constitutional conventions. On the last day of the 2006 session, Jan. 2, the amendment received 62 votes, 12 more than the 50 votes needed. Due to changes in seats after the November 2006 elections, opponents of the amendment believe they are now within eight votes of defeating the amendment.
Mineau said that amendment supporters are confident that their votes will hold. None of the returning 53 legislators who support the amendment have rescinded their votes and four new legislators also support the amendment, he said.
Like her predecessor, Robert E. Travaglini, senate president Therese Murray has stated publicly that while she opposes the amendment, she supports holding a vote on the issue.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled on Dec. 27, 2006 that the Legislature must vote on the citizens’ initiative petitions.
Mineau called for a vote on June 14, noting that there are a number of other amendments on the calendar, which need to be considered after the marriage amendment. The marriage amendment is the first item on the docket this year because it is the only remaining amendment from the last session that is up for a second vote, he said.
Mineau said that he is confident the marriage amendment will pass the statewide vote on the ballot in 2008.
“We are dealing with the most essential human institution that for all of recorded history has been a man and a woman. It’s deeply engrained in the hearts of people everywhere,” he said.
Even in other states, like Oregon and Wisconsin, where amendments supporting traditional marriage met resistance, they were eventually passed, he added.
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley and the three other diocesan bishops of Massachusetts sent a joint letter to each legislator May 7 urging them to hold a vote on the marriage amendment on May 9.
“As bishops, we reiterate our position that we do not seek the translation of our religious convictions into public policy,” they said. “Rather, we speak based on universally accessible moral reasoning in order to promote the common good. We believe that society has a moral responsibility to foster the good of families, since the good of the family is closely linked to the institution of marriage as it has been recognized from time immemorial.”
The letter also pointed to a recent Suffolk University poll that found that nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts registered voters want to see the amendment on the ballot.
“We ask you to listen to the people,” the bishops wrote. “We ask you not to deny the right of our citizens to vote in this democracy.”
Cardinal O’Malley also sent a separate letter “of thanks and gratitude” on May 3 to those legislators who supported the amendment during the 2006 legislative session, said Edward Saunders, director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.
“Various interest groups and individuals have made it known that they are seeking to persuade you to change your vote at the next constitutional convention,” the cardinal said in his letter. “I urge you to remain strong in your commitment to the citizens of the commonwealth. The people, not the courts, should determine what constitutes the institution of marriage in Massachusetts. Every person is entitled to the right to vote on this important issue.”
Additionally, the four bishops of Massachusetts in conjunction with pastors are personally contacting elected representatives who support the amendment and those who have indicated that they would be open to support it. They hope to encourage legislators to vote in favor of the amendment, while recognizing the pressure they are under to vote against it, Saunders said.