The Massachusetts Legislature will meet in constitutional convention on July 12 and calls and emails to legislators in favor of a vote on marriage are needed. If no legislative vote is taken, or the marriage amendment, H. 4617, is defeated, then experts on both sides of the issue agree that the persecution of religious organizations and people of faith opposed to same-sex marriage will be certain to follow.
The question is whether a debate on H. 4617, proposing a new marriage amendment, will take place on July 12, later or at all. Procedurally, the legislature has until the end of the year to act, but the later a vote is delayed, the less likely a vote will be held.
Opponents are talking “out loud,” that is, in their own newspapers and blogs, about how to kill the amendment through parliamentary maneuvers. Bandied about are such tactics as orchestrating a con-con boycott, where legislators would prevent a quorum by walking out and refusing to return, thus forcing the con-con to shut down.
Article 6 of the state constitution requires all officeholders to take the following oath: “I, [name], do solemnly swear, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and will support the constitution thereof. So help me God.” Article 48 of the same constitution requires the legislature to take “final action” on any citizen initiatives brought before it. That means each legislator, by virtue of his or her constitutional oath of office, should have, and should take, the opportunity to register a yes or no vote, directly approving or defeating the marriage amendment.
In 2002, legislators voted to adjourn and then-Senate President Thomas Birmingham gaveled the con-con to a close without taking up any amendments, including an earlier version of the marriage amendment. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled later that year that such a procedural vote was not the required “final action.”
That ruling clarified an issue that was unclear in 1990, when legislative leaders orchestrated a walk-out to avoid a vote on an initiative petition that would have constitutionalized an unlimited right to abortion.
Unfortunately, there is no legal remedy when legislators fail to vote. The oath of office and the duty to take final action are moral in nature. Legislators can’t be sued for failing to comply. The only way to get their compliance is by appealing to their conscience and activating their constituents. But even before that, supporters of the amendment must convince at least 50 legislators to agree, if given the chance, to vote for the amendment. Without the votes in hand, the moral case for a legislative vote becomes moot.
While one should never count on any vote until a roll call is recorded, both sides agree that, currently, the amendment has at least 50 votes. The pressure is intense to peal away supporters, so that could change. Grassroots efforts must prevent such change. But as long as that number is preserved, then the constitutional requirement for a roll call has meaning.
In 1982, the Supreme Judicial Court advised the Legislature that the 50 vote minimum was intended to ensure that initiative petitions had at least a “reasonable amount of public support, as reflected by the favorable votes of at least one fourth of the  legislators elected.” Moreover, in 1976, the high court referred to the initiative procedure as “the people’s process” that the legislature should not thwart. So far, the legislative support is there. And in record numbers, the people have petitioned for a vote. Thus, the law is on our side. The question is; are defenders of traditional marriage willing to do the work needed to take advantage?
The campaign for a vote on the amendment is directed through VoteOnMarriage.org, (click on “communicate” link) which has a sophisticated online, but easy-to-use, system for contacting legislators, and their Web site includes sample bulletin announcements and other materials. All grassroots efforts are being coordinated by VoteOnMarriage.org (617-795-2677) and Catholic Citizenship (617-755-7668).
Harsh persecution certain
Legal experts warn or admit, depending on whether they oppose or support same-sex marriage, that the legalization of same-sex marriage ultimately will require non-complying churches and people of faith to be punished harshly. Associated Press writer Richard Ostling reported on the findings of a December 2005 legal conference reaching that consensus in an article published the last weekend of May by The Boston Globe. The AP report, along with a May 2006 cover story on the conference in the Weekly Standard by Maggie Gallagher, and several of the conference papers can be accessed online at http://www.becketfund.org/index.php/article/501.html.
The conference presenters, including ACLU and other gay rights advocates, agreed that the refusal to accept same-sex marriage will be treated as harshly as racial bigotry. The first warnings of things to come in Massachusetts, according to several presenters, have arisen already.
Catholic Charities agencies are being forced to choose between getting out of adoptions altogether or losing all their state funding and facing stiff fines, along with being branded as bigots and haters in the media, for upholding Church teaching. Parents who do not want their children indoctrinated in the public schools through lessons that promote same-sex marriage are being denied their right to be notified in advance, and are ostracized by school administrators and teachers. Moreover, people are losing their jobs, and businesses are being sued because they oppose same-sex marriage.
In all, the presenters identified an extraordinary range of situations where compliance with same-sex marriage will be enforced and religious liberty eliminated. The persecution will permeate almost every level of human interaction.
The stakes are clear. If legislators deny a vote on marriage, then those in Massachusetts who want to abide by Church teaching must expect to be persecuted and demonized, all without a say in the matter (persecution without representation?). In view of these circumstances, denying a vote on H. 4617, by whatever means, will be harshly unjust.