Massachusetts Gay Marriage Amendment Fails

The Massachusetts legislature has, for the second year in a row, voted down a bill that would put a referendum on the state ballot to do away with gay marriages, as ordered by the state supreme court, and have civil unions instead. Interestingly, the vote was stronger this year than last, with many legislators who voted for the measure last year voting against it this year. Last year the vote was 105-92 against it, this year it was an overwhelming 157-39. And here is an interesting quote from one legislator, who went from being a sponsor of the bill to voting against it in one year:

"Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry," said state Sen. Brian Lees, a Republican who had been a co-sponsor of the amendment. "This amendment which was an appropriate measure or compromise a year ago, is no longer, I feel, a compromise today."

Quite sensible. This will follow exactly the pattern that I predicted when the state court ruling came down a couple years ago. There has already been a vehement reaction to it, with many states banning gay marriage in ballot referendums last year. The second phase has now begun, with other legislatures taking steps to allow gay marriages or civil unions (Connecticut, California and Vermont). And the third phase will be that people will see that those changes don't have the horrible effects predicted by opponents of gay marriage, people will get used to the idea and opposition will go down. Eventually, the states will move toward allowing gay marriage in one form or another and in 40 years all but the most bigoted among us will wonder what the big deal was. This is the pattern we have seen throughout previous struggles for equal rights, from women's suffrage to desegretation to bans on interracial marriage.

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"Last year the vote was 105-92 against it, this year it was an overwhelming 157-39."

This amendment was _approved_ 105-92 last year. If it had been disapproved last year, they would have had to start over this year. It still seems likely that an anti-marriage amendment will appear on the Mass. ballot, just in 2008 instead of 2006. (via a different amendment process)

Thanks for the heads up, Ed. I'm a MA resident who entered into a same-sex marriage in June 2004. I knew that the ConCon (Constitutional Convention) was to pick up the topic today, but had not seen that they rejected it so quickly.

A couple of points (including a nit).

The nit: the ConCon (which is the combined assembly of the state senate and house) actually voted in favor of the proposed amendment last year. If they had voted against it last year, there would have been no vote this year. The rejection of the measure mans that there will be nothing on the ballot next year.

The primary points are (i) that none of the legislators who supported same-sex marriage in the 2004 election lost, and (ii) that more than a few legislators who opposed same-sex marriage lost. Regarding the first, state senator Marian Walsh, who opposed the proposed amendment, and who represented a relatively conservative district south of Boston, and who (moreover) was particularly targeted by the Roman Catholic Church, Inc., because she opposed the proposed amendment, was re-elected in a landslide.

Two, more than a few candidates (Democrats) who supported same-sex marriage won. In races against some (including Democrats) who opposed same-sex marriage. Given the Democrat nature of MA politics (it wasn't always such), the winner is usually determined during the primary. In one race, in Somerville MA, a gay man defeated an anti-gay Democrat in the primary. The anti-gay Democrat tried to mount a write-in against him, but he lost that, too.

Three, Republican governor Romney (who is Mormon and definitely anti-gay) in the last election attempted to mount a multi-million dollar campaign to get more Republicans elected to the state legislature in 2004. His net gain? Minus five. Bill Weld had enough Republican legislators in the state senate to sustain a veto. Romney doesn't. The people who are actually running the state are Senate President Traviglini and House Speaker DiMasi, and, from all reports, they have a very good working relationship. They will ignore Romney, and, unless he is a moron, he knows it.

Dale wrote:

This amendment was _approved_ 105-92 last year. If it had been disapproved last year, they would have had to start over this year. It still seems likely that an anti-marriage amendment will appear on the Mass. ballot, just in 2008 instead of 2006. (via a different amendment process)

Oops, my mistake. That makes it even more incredible that the sentiment has swung that far in one year. From my understanding, there is a second ballot initiative possible, but it would go much further and ban civil unions as well. That certainly isn't going to make it through the state legislature, so I'm guessing it can only get on the ballot through a petition drive. I doubt such a draconian referendum will pass in liberal Massachusetts.

Ed, heads up. Dale and I were correct. But there is another issue. Some people are circulating initiative petitions in MA that would ban same-sex marriage, which would need fewer votes in the ConCon. The names of the signatories to the petitions are being published on an Internet web site http://www.knowthyneighbor.org/ They're squealing like stuck pigs.

The signatories may believe that they have the right to sign a petition, but they don't have right not to let me know that they have signed the petition.

In Michigan, there are two ways an initiative can get on the ballot, through the legislature and through a petition drive. 2/3 of both houses can vote to put a referendum on the ballot, or 300,000 (I think) signatures on a petition can put it on the ballot. In Massachusetts, if a petition drive succeeds, do they still need a legislative vote as well to place it on the ballot?

Ed, I don't live in Michigan, I live in Massachusetts. It is apparent that the procedure in MI is sigificantly different than in MA.

As far as I can tell, if the initiative petitioners in the MA situtation.get the requisite number of signatories, the issue still goes before the ConCon (the Constitutional Convention, which is the state senate and house sitting as a unitary body) for a vote. If they can get the Senate President (Traviglini) to bring it to a vote (which is highly questionable), they would need only a vote of 1/4 of the ConCon to get the matter passed to the next session. They still need two votes from the ConCon before the issue goes before the voters.

The problem that the initiative petitioners have is that neither Traviglini nor House Speaker DiMasi want to have this issue. That is obvious. They want to put it aside them. The initiative petition would probably never come up for consideration. There are a number of procedural measures that they can use to ignore the initiative petitions. The ConCon has done that before, on other issues, and they will do so again.

The politicians don't want the issue.

Okay raj, thanks for the information. That is, as you say, decidedly different than the system in Michigan. If we get enough petition signatures, it goes on the ballot regardless of what the legislature says.

As far as I can tell, if the initiative petitioners in the MA situtation.get the requisite number of signatories, the issue still goes before the ConCon (the Constitutional Convention, which is the state senate and house sitting as a unitary body) for a vote. If they can get the Senate President (Traviglini) to bring it to a vote (which is highly questionable), they would need only a vote of 1/4 of the ConCon to get the matter passed to the next session. They still need two votes from the ConCon before the issue goes before the voters.

The real issue for the harsher petition-driven amendment to ban all gay marriages, and explicitly ban civil unions as well, will be how many of the members of the ConCon voted against this compromise amendment because they want to outright ban all legal recognition of gay relationships and therefore will vote in favor of the petition-driven amendment. On the flip side, many of the ConCon members who voted in favor of this amendment because they want CUs and not marriage will be against the petition-driven amendment because it strips gay couples of any mechanism to gain legal rights (although it does not annul the current gay marriages, which was the original intent of the anti-gay groups putting it together).

The vote yesterday fell well short of the 50 votes needed to approve a petition-driven amendment. I am sure the gay rights groups in Mass are currently doing the math to see if the petition-driven amendment would have garnered the necessary 25% of the vote in yesterday's ConCon, as a predictor of what may happen next year, assuming the petition seekers get enough signatures.

Ed Brayton at September 14, 2005 06:58 PM

Ed, not in Massachusetts. Any proposed constitutional amendment has to go through the ConCon.

That's not true of an initiative regarding a statute--and we have had a few of them here--but that is true regarding a proposed constitutional amendment.

I suspect that, even if the proponents of the anti-gay-marriage amendment get enough signatures, Traviglini (the Senate president, who presides over the ConCon) will engage in procedural measures so that the ConCon can ignore the issue if it next comes up. They have done so before on this and other issues. They don't want to deal with it.

One of the things that is interesting is that the SJC has held that a constitutional amendment cannot strip people of previously granted rights. My same-sex partner and I were married in June 2004. So even if the amendment were ratified in 2008, we would still be married.