Massachusetts governor exploring options to block gay marriages

BY admin

April 03 2004 1:00 AM ET

Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney acknowledged Thursday that he won't be able to obtain a judicial stay blocking the upcoming marriages of same-sex couples in the state beginning May 17, The Boston Globe reports. But the governor emphasized that he is exploring other options to prevent the issuance of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. "He's made his decision; I'm not going to pursue that further," Romney said of Atty. Gen. Thomas F. Reilly's refusal to seek a stay of the Massachusetts supreme judicial court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. "Of course, I'm also considering other options. I don't have anything to report in that regard, but stay tuned." On Monday the Massachusetts legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage and establish civil unions. But lawmakers must pass the measure a second time during the 2005-2006 legislative session--and then voters must approve it--before the constitution would be amended. The earliest the measure could appear on the ballot is November 2006, and gay-marriage opponents are determined to prevent same-sex marriages from taking place between May and that date.

Lawmakers and activists on both sides of the issue suggested that Romney may be weighing several options, including an executive order to block the issuance of licenses to gay couples; proposing a law to prevent issuance of those licenses; or backing another bill, being pushed this week, that would abolish marriage entirely in the state and create civil unions for all couples, gay and nongay. There is "a whole series of options that have been brought forward by various groups within our state, outside the state, law firms, legislators" to stop gay marriages in May, Romney said, though he declined to detail the options or who is suggesting them.

Ronald A. Crews, a spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage and a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, praised Romney's efforts. Crews said he believes there are ways the governor can stop same-sex marriages from taking place, though he said he doesn't know what they are. Many legal analysts disagree. "This all sounds like wishful thinking to me: 'I don't want to do this, therefore there must be some way for me to avoid having to do it,'" Andrew Koppelman, professor of law and political science at Northwestern University, told the Globe. "I have no doubt the governor wishes he had other options, but that's not a legal argument. You litigate, you lose, and at some point you have to admit that you've lost and go on with life."

Arline Isaacson, cochair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, said the Republican governor is playing to a national audience. Isaacson said Romney, who is thought to have higher political aspirations, is determined to prevent gay marriages on his watch. "Romney will do anything in his power or beyond to thwart the issuance of those marriage licenses," Isaacson told the Globe. "He will push the envelope administratively, perhaps by issuing an executive order to the Department of Public Health barring them from issuing marriage licenses. That would be unconstitutional. He's desperate to do anything to prove to the national right-wing audience that he would try to stop gay marriage."

Romney, who spoke to reporters following a speech on development, declined to comment on a specific idea now making the rounds on Beacon Hill, a bill that would take the state out of the marriage business by creating civil unions for gay and straight couples alike. Under the proposal, the state would issue licenses for civil unions that would extend identical rights and benefits to all couples, while churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions would perform marriage ceremonies. Clergy members could officiate at the marriage of any couple they choose. That system would let religious groups that object to same-sex marriage refuse to perform those ceremonies. The proposal, being circulated in draft form by state representative Paul Loscocco, a Holliston Republican, closely resembles the system set up by the government of France, which has separated the civil and religious aspects of marriage while allowing same-sex couples a full array of rights and benefits.

Loscocco, a harsh critic of the proposed constitutional amendment approved by the legislature on Monday, said his bill would address perceived problems with the amendment: that it creates a "separate but equal" system for same-sex couples and that it fails to address concerns of churches and synagogues that they might be forced to marry same-sex couples. "It's absolutely radical, but it's consistent," Loscocco told the Globe. "In my view, this is something the legislature has to weigh. There is going to be confusion and acrimony as people fight, whether they realize it or not, over a word. Words mean things, but to a certain degree, the problem here is that the word [marriage] has meaning religiously. I am confident that we in the commonwealth can call this institution whatever we want, as long as it is clearly the legal equivalent of marriage."

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