After hours of intense debate, the Massachusetts legislature had still not reached consensus Thursday on a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, raising the possibility that resolution would be delayed until another date and possibly another week.
On the second day of the state constitutional convention, lawmakers debated a proposed amendment that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman; it neither requires nor prohibits civil unions. If successful, it will go on the ballot in November 2006, more than two years after gay couples earn the right to marry under the edict of the supreme judicial court decision issued in November. Unlike other amendments considered by the legislature during the two-day debate, this measure would not enact or promise civil unions for gay couples, but it also explicitly states that they would not be prohibited.
"This is the amendment that tells the people of Massachusetts what marriage is," said Rep. Philip Travis (D-Rehoboth), the amendment's sponsor. "We do love everyone equally. We don't pick on people because of different color or preference of sex. That has never been an issue in this debate."
At this stage of the process, passage would require a simple majority of the members present and voting. Eventually, however, it will require a simple majority of the entire 200-member legislature--or 101 votes--to pass an amendment this legislative session, as well as passage in the 2005-2006 legislative session before it could wind up on the ballot for voters.
The national spotlight has been focused on the Massachusetts legislature since a November decision by the state's highest court ruled it was unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage. Lawmakers who are against gay marriage immediately said they would try stop those marriages. Lofty rhetoric about the need to preserve the institution of marriage and calls for basic equality echoed through the house chamber for a second day Thursday.
Several lawmakers shared personal experiences. Sen. Jarrett Barrios (D-Cambridge), the first openly gay lawmaker to speak during the two days of debate and one of the most visible critics of the constitutional ban, choked back tears when he spoke about how an amendment would affect his family. He and his partner of 10 years have two adopted sons, ages 12 and 7. "Don't believe those who tell you that just defining marriage between a man and a woman will not hurt your gay and lesbian friends, your family members, your neighbors, and your colleagues, because it will," Barrios said.
Rep. David Flynn (D-Bridgewater) told lawmakers that a member of his family was now shunning him because of a vote he made Wednesday in favor of a constitutional ban on gay marriages. "I lost a member of my family last night because of my vote," said Flynn, who opposes gay marriage. "And I say to that member of the family, 'I love you, I want you back in the family, but you must understand that I took the oath of this office...and I've always sworn to the rest of you to what you and I think is right, regardless of party, regardless of politics, regardless of religion, and regardless of family."'
Sen. Robert A. Havern (D-Arlington) told his colleagues there was no need for an amendment. "Allow people to get married who love each other," Havern said. "See how it works out. And my guess is, it will be the biggest nonevent in the history of Massachusetts."
Rep. James Fagan (D-Taunton) argued that citizens should be allowed to make a final decision on gay marriage, regardless of what lawmakers think about the issue. "I believe that the good citizens of the commonwealth of Massachusetts will reject the reprehensible idea of segregating people once again," Fagan said. "But that decision should be left to the people. It's my job as their representative to protect their vote."
A move to derail the constitutional amendment process was voted down early Thursday. Rep. Shaun P. Kelly (R-Dalton) had called for the adjournment of the convention, which would have killed all the proposed amendments and left the constitution intact. The frenzied first day unfolded before more than 4,000 spectators in the statehouse and reflected a legislature deeply divided about how to respond to the court's 4-3 ruling. The session resumed Thursday in a much more subdued setting, with fewer protesters and spectators. As legislators returned to the house chamber, gay rights advocates chanted "No discrimination!"