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Monday, March 29, 2004

Disgusted

That's how I feel after the Massachusetts legislature's 105-92 vote to put discrimination against gay people into the state constitution, which occurred just after 6:00. Mitt Romney piled on, immediately announcing he'll be seeking a stay of the Supreme Judicial Court's decision that would allow same-sex marriages beginning on May 17. He wants the amendment process to play out, including consideration by the next legislature and a potential referendum in November 2006, before the decision is allowed to take effect. More on that in a minute, but for now, they did it:

The Massachusetts Legislature gave final approval -- for this year -- to a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage but legalize civil unions, taking the first decisive step toward stripping same-sex couples of court-mandated marriage rights.

I've been more optimistic than most of the pro-gay marriage side throughout, and the first two votes actually looked pretty good today, with supporters making the strategic decision to pass the amendment on and try to kill it later. The Phoenix has had good running coverage from the State House as the afternoon went on, and Rachel Wortman has been updating frequently as well. I was unpleasantly surprised by the final tally, and just as I was stewing, out comes Mitt Romney to cheer me up (that's sarcasm). "I believe the Supreme Judicial Court has an obligation to the constitution and the people of Massachusetts to withhold this decision, to stay this decision until the people of Massachusetts can make a final determination for themselves," said Romney. I can't find his full statement anywhere just yet, and then there's this from the attorney general:

But Reilly said he would not interfere with the court's ruling.

"It was very clear to me as attorney general that the majority of the Supreme Judicial Court have made up their minds," he said. "Do I agree with their decision? No. Absolutely not. But that is the law of the state."

I heard Romney say in his press conference at around 6:25 that he would have Tom Reilly delivering the motion for the stay to the SJC tomorrow. I'm not sure whether this is something Reilly is obligated to do or whether he can refuse to do it and scuttle the governor's plans. As I write this post, the AP story is getting updated to include reaction to Reilly from Shawn Feddeman, Romney's spokeswoman, hoping Reilly will reconsider. They've also got some quotes from legal experts saying the stay is unlikely to happen, which makes me happy. Sorry for the incoherence, details are still emerging.

Neither side seems pleased with the result in the legislature. From the AP story:

"I believe many of them are going to feel very ashamed of what they've just done today," said Arline Isaacson, co-leader of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.

Conservatives also weren't quick to embrace the compromise, calling it blackmail to force citizens to approve civil unions as part of a marriage ban.

"We are giving the people a false choice," said Rep. Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth. "We're saying, 'No problem, you can vote to define marriage as between a man and a woman, but the only way you can do it is if you create civil unions that are entirely the same as marriage.' Ultimately, if this ever makes it to the ballot, it will fail."

Here's a statement from MassEquality on the vote, which I'll paste in full:

Civil rights in Massachusetts received a setback today in the Legislature. The constitutional amendment approved by a slim majority of legislators discriminates against a single group of Massachusetts citizens by taking away basic rights and protections.

A growing group of legislators who oppose those efforts voted twice for the so-called Travaglini compromise amendment in a strategic move to kill off more mean-spirited amendments. But on the final vote -- the vote to kill the amendment -- those same legislators voted to defeat the Travaglini amendment. Unfortunately, there weren't enough votes to prevail, and the Travaglini amendment passed.

At MassEquality, we're extremely grateful to those heroic legislators who stood with us to fight all attempts to place discrimination -- in whatever form -- in our state constitution. We fully support their votes and actions, and will work with them and others to ensure that the amendment is defeated in the next Constitutional Convention in 2005.

This setback does nothing to stop the inevitable -- that marriage licenses for same-sex couples will be issued in May. We believe that when legislators see that these couples and their families are simply safer and more secure through marriage, and that neither their religious beliefs nor their own marriages have been threatened in any way, that our growing supporters in the State House will defeat this discriminatory amendment in 2005.

That last point is important, because I've always felt that even if the amendment proceeds through the legislature, by the time any referendum takes place there will have been 30 months of legal gay marriage in the state and people will realize the sky hasn't fallen. Romney's stay proposal, however, would prevent that from happening, thus robbing gay marriage proponents of a very strong argument on their side.

Fortunately, as noted above, the opinion emerging seems to be that the stay request from Romney will be rejected, and this is proper. The legislature hasn't voted to change any law, they have only continued the process at this point. The stay would bias a potential vote in November 2006, and 2.5 years is a very long time to put off what the court has called a fundamental right. Plus it's extremely unlikely that after what has so far transpired the SJC will back down now.

As usual, things should become more clear by morning and I'll review the papers then.