Marriage Vote Delayed in Massachusetts
[BOSTON, MA] - A constitutional convention in Massachusetts was convened but quickly adjourned on Wednesday, avoiding a vote on an amendment to ban recognition of same-sex marriage and other legal ties between gay and lesbian couples.
The tactical move by Senate President Thomas Birmingham postpones a marriage vote in the 198-member joint legislative session until July 17.
Although Birmingham, one of several Democrats campaigning for the gubernatorial nomination, has the power to avoid a marriage vote next month as well, it's not clear whether he will use that power again.
Birmingham's spokeswoman, Alison Franklin, told the Boston Globe that it's possible the marriage amendment will not come to a vote in July's session either, a development which would delay a possible public vote on the question by two years, to November 2006 at the earliest.
But gay rights advocates at Equalmarriage.org warn on their Web site that the amendment is "likely" to be brought before the Legislature when the convention reconvenes. The anti-marriage amendment must be ratified by just 25 percent of the joint Legislature in two consecutive sessions in order to qualify for the state ballot.
Because the 25 percent bar is so low, marriage activists fear that the measure would "pass" the convention if lawmakers were given a chance to take a stand. Just 50 members must vote yes, a prospect that led gay rights strategists to urge Birmingham to keep the amendment off the table. A decade ago, Senate President William Bulger killed a term limit amendment in this fashion, the Globe reports.
The anti-marriage amendment qualified for this phase under a cloud of suspicion. Petition gatherers, hired from a firm in Phoenix, allegedly lured voters with a popular proposal to ban the sale of horse meatand slipped the marriage petition in for a signature. Several hundred people who found their names on the gay marriage ban have claimed that they intended to sign the horse measure, not the marriage amendment. The process is under court challenge by Save Our Horses, which came up short in the name gathering.
Regardless of what happens to the horse meat ban, the marriage amendment is on track for a November 2004 statewide vote, provided a quarter of the Legislature approves it this year, and again next year. Marriage opponents are in a race against the courts, where a freedom-to-marry lawsuit is working its way through the system, so another postponed vote this year could be a critical win for the GLBT community. The current session ends July 31.