A majority of Massachusetts lawmakers would approve a compromise state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and woman while providing civil union benefits to same-sex couples if a vote were taken today, senate president Robert Travaglini said Monday.
However, Travaglini, one of the sponsors of the compromise along with house speaker Thomas Finneran, warned that the situation is still in flux and votes could change before Thursday, when the house and senate are scheduled to meet in another joint session of the constitutional convention. The two branches failed to pass three earlier versions of a same-sex marriage amendment during two days of debate last month.
Travaglini says he has been calling lawmakers on all sides of the issue to see if he could convince them to back the compromise, which defines marriage as the union of a man and woman but also creates civil unions for same-sex couples with all the legal benefits of marriage. He said the lobbying appeared to be paying off.
Finneran said he also spent the weekend lobbying house members to support the proposal, which he said was the best both sides could hope for under the current circumstances. But he was reluctant to predict victory. "I think it's a little early to say that," Finneran (D-Boston) said Monday. "It's very fluid.... I don't want to say anything until we have a hard count. It would be premature for me to say that."
State representative Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington) said he received a call from Finneran's office during the weekend but was asked only his opinion of the compromise amendment. Kaufman is a strong supporter of gay marriage and an opponent of any compromise. House Republican leader Bradley Jones said he would support splitting the question to let voters cast ballots on two questions, one defining marriage as between a man and woman and a second creating civil unions for gay couples.
As lawmakers wrangled with the best language for an amendment, advocates on both sides of the gay marriage issue stepped up their lobbying efforts.
Opponents of gay marriage held a morning news conference to say they don't want a marriage amendment that also establishes civil union benefits for same-sex couples. Supporters of gay marriage also reject civil unions, saying anything less than full marriage rights would discriminate against gay couples. The earliest a ballot question to change the state constitution could go before Massachusetts voters is 2006.
Whatever happens this week, the state's highest court has already ruled that beginning May 17, Massachusetts can no longer deny marriage licenses to gay couples.