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Massachusetts lawmaker considers marriage ballot questions

Massachusetts lawmaker considers marriage ballot questions

Massachusetts house speaker Thomas M. Finneran has floated a proposal that would split a possible same-sex marriage ballot question into two separate ballot questions. A compromise amendment publicly backed by Finneran and state senate president Robert Travaglini would ask voters whether the constitution should be amended to ban gay marriage and establish civil unions. But according to published reports, Finneran, in a meeting with Travaglini on Wednesday, proposed splitting the question before voters into two parts: one banning gay marriage and a second saying the legislature shall establish civil unions, while not defining what rights such unions would provide same-sex couples. Finneran told WBZ-AM Thursday morning that it was premature to say he was considering splitting the same-sex marriage ballot question, adding that the situation was still fluid as lawmakers work on building consensus. "The confidential conversations have to remain that," Finneran said. Travaglini's amendment, which he cosponsored with Finneran (D-Boston) and senate minority leader Brian Lees (R-East Longmeadow), would ban gay marriage but simultaneously grant couples civil unions that would convey all the rights and benefits of marriage under state law. Travaglini (D-Boston) said Tuesday there are currently not enough votes to pass his version of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but he's hopeful the support will be in place by the time the legislature resumes debate March 11. "The president is still very much engaged with getting the votes for the measure that he and the speaker have sponsored," said senate majority leader Frederick E. Berry. "There's no serious consideration of anything else, at least on our side. As far as the president is concerned, he did not give Finneran's idea serious consideration." Ronald A. Crews, spokesman for the Coalition for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, said he could support Finneran's proposal. "If the speaker, in his wisdom, thinks this is a possibility, then we would support him in this endeavor," Crews said. He said his group will urge like-minded lawmakers to back the Finneran plan because "we do believe it's a positive thing for the voters to debate the issue." Gay rights advocates, who oppose any amendment, say Finneran's new plan offers evidence that the speaker never backed the plan he cosponsored with Travaglini in the first place. "I think the proposals that the speaker has been floating speak volumes about his support for the Travaglini-Finneran amendment, which is that he appears to want something very different," said Arline Isaacson, cochair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. "I continue to be amazed at how hard certain legislators are working to take away our rights and still feel good about themselves, still feel like they're not doing something very, very wrong." To amend the state's constitution, a majority of lawmakers must approve the measure in two successive sessions, and then a majority of voters must approve the language in a statewide ballot referendum. The soonest voters could weigh in, then, would be November 2006. The gay marriage debate was triggered by a November decision by the state's highest court, ruling that it was unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from marriage. Under the court's timeline, gay marriages will become legal in Massachusetts on May 17.

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