After failing to pass two proposed constitutional amendments limiting gay and lesbian marriage rights at the Massachusetts constitutional convention on Wednesday, lawmakers today will consider a third plan built around the harshest language yet--a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and woman, effectively banning same-sex marriages.
"It's increasingly clear that the legislature is positioning itself to take back the marriage rights we currently have, to take back over 1,000 protections we currently have, to enshrine discrimination into our constitution, and to create a system of separate but unequal," said Arline Isaacson, co-leader of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus.
Lawmakers on Wednesday failed to pass two compromise proposals that would have allowed for civil unions--under two slightly different scenarios--rather than the full-fledged marriages the state's highest court ruled that same-sex couples should have access to beginning in mid May. Moments after the constitutional convention adjourned Wednesday night, house and senate leaders met behind closed doors to craft a third proposal that they hoped would be able to sway the few votes necessary to cobble together a majority against gay marriage.
The convention's frenzied first day unfolded before more than 4,000 spectators in the statehouse and reflected a legislature deeply divided over how to respond to the supreme judicial court's November decision that it is unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marrying. "We're as divided as the nation on this," said house speaker Thomas Finneran, an opponent of gay marriage. "We're doing the best we can. We're human beings. Sometimes we come up short."
An amendment would require the backing of a simple majority of the legislature this year, then again in the 2005-2006 legislative session before it could wind up on the November 2006 ballot for voters to consider. A key issue is what to do after May 17, when gay couples presumably could exchange vows in the state. Would they have their marriage licenses revoked if voters ultimately approve a constitutional ban two years later? "I don't think we can do that. I think if someone enters into a marriage on May 17, it's a marriage, and there's no constitutional provision that can undo that," said Rep. John Rogers.