Top Democratic leaders in the Massachusetts house of representatives plan to write legislation to greatly expand legal rights for gay couples in Massachusetts. The group, led by house ways and means committee chairman John H. Rogers, long viewed as a foe of gay rights, is considering a compromise that would outlaw gay marriage while approving Vermont-style civil unions, several of the lawmakers told
The Boston Globe
. The members plan to draft a bill this month with the hope that the legislature will act on it before the Supreme Judicial Court rules on legalizing gay marriage. That ruling is expected at any time.
Rogers confirmed that the group will meet later this month and said he hopes the effort will result in civil union legislation similar to that enacted in Vermont. Lawmakers there, at the same time they extended legal recognition to gay couples, also defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman to appease conservatives. "My consistent philosophy throughout has been that it's not only possible but responsible to erect new foundations of social and economic justice without tearing down a time-honored institution," Rogers said. "We always work on extremely complex and intricate issues and somehow achieve consensus, and consensus can and has a high likelihood of being achieved this year."
The group's efforts mark the most serious effort yet in the house to expand gay rights. Under speaker Thomas M. Finneran's leadership, the chamber has blocked consideration of more modest domestic-partner benefits bills in recent years. The Democratic group, which has pledged to keep its deliberations secret, worked last year to strike a compromise to grant benefits to gay couples. That attempt, which was far less ambitious than what the group of lawmakers is now considering, failed. Gay rights groups invited to meet with task force members soundly rejected the plan, and the task force stopped meeting and made a pledge never to go public. After recent informal discussions, it is launching the effort anew. Several of the lawmakers involved say political ground has since shifted, with public opinion polls indicating increased support for gay marriage in the state.