Massachusetts senate crafts civil unions bill
In an effort to find some middle ground in the contentious debate on same-sex marriage in the state, the Massachusetts senate is expected on Thursday to send a civil-unions bill to the state supreme judicial court and ask if the legislation conforms with the court's recent pro-gay marriage decision. According to a report in The Boston Globe, the move is being spearheaded by senate president Robert E. Travaglini, who with the joint committee on the judiciary is planning to produce a sweeping civil-unions bill that the senate leadership is convinced provides all the protections, obligations, and benefits of civil marriage that the court says the law must grant gay couples. "This is probably the most significant decision rendered by the supreme judicial court in 50 years," Travaglini told The Globe. "And there is a significant difference of opinions among legal experts. We need clarification." The bill, however, would not describe the unions as "marriage," and according to many gay marriage proponents, it would fall short of offering the full legal benefits enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
Presentation of the civil-unions bill to the high court would be the first official action taken by state lawmakers, who were given 180 days in the court's November 18 ruling to come up with a solution to the state's lack of gay marriage rights. Travaglini said he feels it is imperative to get the court's clarification in order to avoid an ugly and emotional showdown over the hot-button issue of legalizing gay marriage. "It will be a sigh of relief to people in this building" if the court goes along with the senate's request, said Travaglini, a Democrat. The senate leader, along with Governor Mitt Romney and Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, believes some form of a civil-unions bill, much like the legislation Vermont approved in 2000, would satisfy the majority opinion.
Lawmakers in the Massachusetts house are planning a similar approach as early as next week. They, along with the senate, are hoping to get a decision from the high court before February 11, when state lawmakers will get together as a 200-member constitutional convention and take up an agenda that includes a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Travaglini said that if the court finds that his civil-unions bill meets its criteria, he is confident that the senate would approve it. Passage in
the more conservative house is less certain, however.