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Marriage equality
opponents sue Massachusetts lawmakers who blocked vote

Marriage equality
opponents sue Massachusetts lawmakers who blocked vote

Supporters of a measure to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts have sued in federal court, seeking more than $5 million in damages from state lawmakers who blocked a final vote last month on the proposed constitutional amendment. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. district court by VoteOnMarriage.org, argues that the 109 lawmakers violated the supporters' rights to free speech, to petition the government, and to due process under the law. The group is asking the court to interpret the vote to recess a joint meeting of the state house and senate as a vote in favor of the amendment, even though many lawmakers said the vote was designed to kill the amendment. Opponents feared they did not have the 151 votes needed to kill the measure and called for the vote to recess. The legislature is scheduled to take up the question again January 2, the last day of the session. Supporters fear lawmakers will again avoid taking a vote, killing the proposal. Massachusetts is now the only U.S. state that allows same-sex marriage. Glen Lavy, a lawyer representing VoteOnMarriage.org, says the lawsuit is needed to force lawmakers to follow the constitution. It seeks $500,000 from the lawmakers for the cost of the group's legal battles and another $5 million in punitive damages. The damages would be split 109 ways, and lawmakers would be held personally liable, he said. "We would like to put an end to the Massachusetts legislature thumbing its nose at citizen initiatives," Lavy said. "This lawsuit is about holding those legislators responsible for their illegal conduct." Lavy said he did not expect a ruling before January 2. He called the request that the court interpret votes to recess as votes in favor of the amendment "a unique request for relief" and acknowledged it was a long shot. Kyle Sullivan, spokesman for house speaker Salvatore DiMasi, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Another lawmaker named in the suit, Newton Democrat Ruth B. Balser, said she was unfazed by the threat of punitive damages. "I am very confident that every action that we have taken here in the Massachusetts legislature is consistent with the Massachusetts constitution," she said. It is the second lawsuit designed to force lawmakers to take a vote on the question. Governor Mitt Romney and other opponents of same-sex marriage filed a suit with the state supreme judicial court asking the court to force lawmakers to vote on the proposed amendment or, if they fail to act, to put the question on the 2008 ballot anyway. The case is pending. (Steve LeBlanc, AP)

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