Cries of "amen" rang through a Massachusetts statehouse meeting room on Wednesday as more than 200 opponents of gay marriage marked the start of a new legislative year with a rally in support of a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions. As lawmakers gathered to begin a session that could determine the course of the national gay marriage debate, conservative religious groups from across the state and nation gathered to decry the November decision by the state's highest court that
ruled it unconstitutional to bar gay couples from marriage. "Those of us with a moral conscience are standing together in opposition," said Bishop Gilbert Thompson, a member of the Black Ministerial Alliance and leader of the New Covenant Christian Church in Boston. "This radical sexual revolution will destroy a road map that our children desperately need."
Supporters of gay marriage are scheduled to counter with a rally of their own Thursday in anticipation of a February 11 constitutional convention, at which a joint session of the house and senate will consider an amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. "We want to tell them that civil unions are not an adequate solution, that discrimination should not be written into the constitution, and that many religions do support our right to civil marriage," said Arline Isaacson,
cochair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. A vote is possible at the February convention but not mandatory. Legislative leaders have repeatedly postponed and rescheduled constitutional conventions in the past, but conservative groups are likely to put the pressure on for a vote in February.
The forces opposing gay marriage are also pushing a second constitutional amendment, proposed long before the high court decision, that would require the election of judges, who are now appointed for life. "The citizens of our state know better than the courts of our state about what is best for our children," said Ron Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute. "Unelected judges have usurped the power of the legislature."
If approved by the legislature before the session ends in December, an amendment would have to be approved again during the 2005-2006 session before being placed on the ballot in November 2006 for voter consideration. According to a recent Zogby International poll conducted for the Massachusetts
Family Institute, 52% of likely Massachusetts voters agree that "only marriage between one man and one woman should be legal and binding in America." The poll interviewed 601 randomly selected voters from across the state December 16-18. Crews hinted that lawmakers will suffer at the ballot box in November if they don't allow voters to weigh in on the gay marriage question. Under the high court decision, gay marriages could take place in Massachusetts as soon as May 17.
The senate has asked the supreme judicial court for an advisory opinion about whether a civil unions law would satisfy the requirements of its November 18 decision. Briefs on that question are due to the court January 12. Rep. Philip Travis (D-Rehoboth), who sponsored a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage long before the recent court decision, said the vote will be the most important of his 21 years in office. "I love all people. That is my makeup," said Travis, denying that his amendment stemmed from bigotry. "But I love marriage as a union between one man and one woman." None of the other 200 lawmakers appeared at the rally, which occurred an hour before house speaker Thomas Finneran (D-Boston) opened the session with his annual address. He made no mention of the gay marriage debate, which is likely to be a dominant topic during the first six months of the year.