- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2004

This week, Massachusetts lawmakers will consider the first step toward changing the state constitution to define marriage, the latest round in the state’s political fight over homosexual “marriage.”

A constitutional convention for all 200 state lawmakers is scheduled for Wednesday. At issue is a bill to amend the state constitution called the Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment.

The two-sentence bill defines marriage as “the union of one man and one woman” and clarifies that “any other relationship” shall not be recognized as marriage.

Changing the state constitution, which must be approved by a majority of lawmakers and voters, is the only way to overturn the Nov. 18 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling that legalizes “marriage” for homosexual couples.

However, even if lawmakers approve the bill on Wednesday — which is not certain, especially in an election year — it still will take two to three years to put it to a public vote.

If they pass the amendment, it also sets up a bizarre scenario, as the high court has indicated that May 17 is when the state should start issuing marriage licenses to homosexual couples.

“What a crisis you’d create if you have, starting in May, all these people getting married, and then two years from now, saying they’re not allowed to marry,” said Massachusetts state Rep. Vinnie DeMacedo, a Republican.

Many lawmakers’ best plan for compromise — creating civil unions for homosexuals, similar to what exists in neighboring Vermont — was dashed last week when the high court ruled 4-3 that only legal “marriage” for homosexuals satisfies the state constitution.

To homosexual-rights supporters, the court’s Feb. 3 opinion cleared the way for licenses to be granted on May 17.

“It seems pretty beyond doubt to me, unless the governor were to defy the court. And it seems inconceivable that anyone would defy the law over this,” said Matt Coles, director of the Lesbian & Gay Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

To others, the high court essentially set in motion a full-blown political crisis in the state.

“What the court has said is, ‘Look, we’ve drawn the line in the sand, and either you’re going to go along with what we say and change the definition of one of the fundamental institutions in society or there will be a political crisis over it,’” said Robert Destro, law professor and top official of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America.

“By drawing the line the way they have, they haven’t really left any political middle ground. And that’s unfortunate. You’ve polarized society in a way that it really doesn’t need to be,” Mr. Destro said.

Yesterday, about 2,000 supporters of the traditional understanding of marriage gathered on Boston Common to show support for the proposed amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

People held banners that read “Let the people vote” and “Marriage, ancient, sacred.”

Boston Archbishop Sean P. O’Malley drew cheers when he told the crowd that recognizing same-sex unions would have an “enormously negative impact on our society.”

Within the past week, lawmakers have haggled over some details of any bill. State House Speaker Thomas Finneran said he was considering asking the high court to extend its 180-day stay on its decision and delay the May 17 licensing date.

Some lawmakers said they are considering passing a civil-union law that provides findings for why only heterosexuals are able to marry. In its two rulings, the high court has said no “rational” basis for this tradition had been provided.

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