Massachusetts Pols End Up Listening to the People
In the end, the Massachusetts Legislature ignored governor Duval Patrick and decided to listen to the voters–or perhaps the Massachusetts Supreme Court–and voted to allow a vote on a State Constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Lawmakers in Massachusetts, the only state where gay marriage is legal, on Tuesday voted to advance a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a critical step toward putting the measure the 2008 ballot.
The proposed amendment, which would define marriage as between one man and one woman but ban future gay marriages, still needs approval of the next legislative session before it can go onto the ballot.
The vote Tuesday in the constitutional convention came without debate, immediately after Senate President Robert Travaglini officially opened the joint session.
Earlier in the day, Gov-elect Deval Patrick had met with Travaglini and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi to urge against a vote, calling it a “question of conscience.” He said the proposed amendment was the first time the amendment process was being used “to consider reinserting discrimination into the constitution.”
But the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week that lawmakers’ had shirked their constitutional duties in November by recessing instead of voting on the proposal.
The supporters of the amendment collected signatures from 170,000 people in an effort to get the question on the ballot.
The amendment would need to be approved by 50 member of the current Legislature and 50 members of the new Legislature before going to voters on the 2008 ballot. On Tuesday, 61 lawmakers backed moving the measure forward, compared to 132 opposed.
I had the opportunity to read the Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion from last week, the coverage of which was severely distorted.
There was a long line of precedent in Mass. saying that the Court did not have the authority to order the Legislature to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment, which could have been the end of the opinion. The Court included several statements, however, making it very clear that the Mass. Constitution required a vote by the Legislature, that if the Legislature adjourned without voting it would be in violation of their constitutional duties, etc. Having said all that, though, the Court felt bound by precedent to hold that there was no judicial remedy for the constitutional wrong.
Many will see the irony here; the same Court in the original “gay marriage” case in essence ordered the Legislature to pass legislation making gay marriage lawful. Why was that within the Court’s power, while enforcing the constitutional mandate for a vote was not? Well, first there was a long line of precedent in the most recent case that they could not simply ignore. And anyone who argues for judicial restraint (as well as respect for precedent) would have to agree that the most recent result was correct.
Ironically, the Court by its strong language probably shamed the Legislature (to the extent that they are capable of shame!) into voting today on this issue.
With only 50 of 200 legislators needed to put a petition item on the ballot, the bar is pretty low. You could get 170,000 people in Massachusetts to sign a petition reinstituting miscegenation laws.
It should be noted that several of the legislstors who voted to put this on the ballot will be leaving office today (either retiring or voted out, replaced by people who will vote the opposite way). The margin on the next vote will be even closer.
While I’m disappointed with the vote today, it’s going to take more than narrow legal issues to defeat this homophobic piece of legislation. Parliamentary procedures keeping this off the ballot may not be a “legitimate” victory. The people are just going to have to stand up to Romney, anti-gay groups and Catholic leaders who from the pulpit denounce public officials who have the nads to take a stand against this regressive piece of legislation.
I just wonder if this vote will encourage Carcieri, Murphy and Montalbano to take the fight to Rhode Island.
I’m glad this vote is going to the people where it belongs. Now I hope when the people get the opportunity they do the right thing and vote to make gay marriage permanently LEGAL in Massachusetts.
I still fail to see any seriously compelling reason why two people of the same sex should not be allowed to be married.
The SJC made the right decision in goading the legislature into voting, thereby fulfilling its constitutional duty. But 61 legislators made the wrong choice by voting to put civil rights up for a popular vote. Barring a switch of 12 votes, it looks like the amendment will go on the ballot in 2008. I hope that a rejection of this amendment by the citizens of the Commonwealth will put an end to this debate. I fear a divisive 2008 election season over this issue…as if 2004 wasn’t bad enough!
It is a shame that, barring court action, same-sex marriage in Rhode Island seems to be going nowhere…much the way it was in Massachusetts before the SJC affirmed the right.
I agree with Greg; I have yet to hear a reasonable argument against same-sex marriage. Two individuals seek to declare their relationship to the rest of society…I think it’s rather nice, myself.