Thursday, November 20, 2003

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said yesterday he was ready to work with lawmakers to craft a “civil union”-style law to give some marriage rights to homosexual couples, even though he also supports a constitutional amendment to preserve traditional marriage.

Meanwhile, a traditional-values group is planning to ask the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to extend the 180-day stay of its decision to legalize homosexual “marriage.”

November 2006 is the earliest Massachusetts residents could go to the polls to vote an amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, said Ron Crews, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute in Newton. “We’re hoping to find some way to file a motion before the court to stay the implementation of their decision until the voters get a chance to vote on this,” he said.

But homosexual rights groups expressed confidence that Massachusetts will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in May and said the outcry over the decision is overblown.

The Massachusetts legislature cannot enact a civil-union law or otherwise “undo this decision” by passing a law, said the D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign.

The 180-day stay is a “courtesy nod” to the legislature, presumably to allow it to clarify its marriage laws, wrote Brendan Lemon, editor of Out magazine. After 180 days, “whether or not the legislature takes any action, marriage licenses must be issued,” he wrote.

“Everybody should take a deep breath” about the Massachusetts decision, said Evan Wolfson, who leads Freedom to Marry, a group fighting for national marriage rights for homosexual couples. “It’s now been almost 180 days since couples began marrying in Canada, and Niagara Falls is still falling — and the sky isn’t,” he said yesterday.

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts high court issued its landmark 4-3 ruling saying that it is unconstitutional for state officials to deny civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“The marriage ban works a deep and scarring hardship on a very real segment of the community for no rational reason,” said the ruling, written by Chief Justice Margaret M. Marshall. Chief Justice Marshall, like six of the seven justices, was appointed by a Republican governor.

The court stayed its judgment for 180 days “to permit the Legislature to take such action as it may deem appropriate in light of this opinion.”

Mr. Crews said he and other traditional-family advocates have met with many lawmakers and found “they really did not expect this ruling.”

“They thought the court was just going to pass it back to the legislature and they could take their time in dealing with it. Now the legislature is going to have to act,” said Mr. Crews.

Mr. Romney yesterday told TV news stations that he would support a Vermont-style civil union law in Massachusetts, but reiterated his support for a constitutional amendment that would clarify that “marriage is an institution between a man and a woman.”

The governor’s strong support for the amendment may persuade more lawmakers to vote for the Massachusetts Affirmation and Protection Amendment, which supporters call “MA&PA,” said Mr. Crews.

Lawmakers are planning to hold a constitutional convention on Feb. 11 to vote on the amendment and, as of yesterday, that date had not changed, said Mr. Crews.

If the amendment is approved by a majority of lawmakers on Feb. 11, it will be held over for a second vote by lawmakers in the next legislative session. If it passes a second vote, it can be put on a ballot, making November 2006 the earliest opportunity for a vote.

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