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Amendment defeated after marriage advocates withdraw support

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As expected state legislators overwhelmingly voted down the proposed Travaglini-Lees amendment by a vote of 157-39 at the Constitutional Convention on Sept. 14.

After three contentious rounds of constitutional convention in the early months of 2004, by a vote of 105-92 the Legislature approved the proposed amendment that would have limited marriage to heterosexual couples but, at the same time, created a constitutional guarantee of same-sex civil unions that would be identical to marriage under state law in all but name.

 The amendment required the approval of a majority of legislators in this session before it could be placed before voters in 2006.

Though originally proposed as a compromise measure, the Travaglini-Lees amendment failed to satisfy either gay-rights or traditional marriage supporters.

Kristian Mineau, speaking on the behalf of the Coalition for Marriage and Family, reaffirmed the organization’s opposition to the Travaglini-Lees amendment at a Statehouse press conference on Sept. 13. The measure was designed to fail because most people who oppose same-sex marriage also oppose civil unions, he said.

The coalition has developed a new initiative instead, which would define marriage as the union between one man and one woman but leave same-sex marriages already entered into intact. The campaign to gather almost 66,000 signatures to put the initiative on the ballot in 2008, VoteOnMarriage.org, begins Sept. 21 and will continue for 60 days.

“We’re asking every state legislator who supports traditional marriage to vote down Travaglini-Lees and support the new, clean protection of marriage amendment, which our ballot question committee, VoteOnMarriage.org, will begin gathering signatures for next week,” he said. “A no vote tomorrow on Travaglini-Lees is a yes vote for the new marriage amendment, a yes vote for marriage only.”

Edward F. Saunders, director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm for the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, said voters deserve a clear choice on marriage.

“The people deserve the right to vote on marriage as a stand-alone issue,” he said. “Protecting marriage is more than preserving a name.”

“If the Travaglini-Lees amendment were enacted, Catholic and other institutions could be forced to adopt practices that would violate their principles,” he added.

Roberto Miranda, chairman of VoteOnMarriage.org, said the amendment offers citizens an “impossible choice.”

“Travaglini-Lees seeks to accommodate mutually conflicted claims and perpetuates the present conflict rather than resolve it. It seeks to get politicians out of the hot seat of having to make clear decisions and commit themselves to a well-defined position, but leaves the people of Massachusetts dissatisfied,” he said.

Bishop Gilbert Thompson, bishop of the New Covenant Christian Church in Boston, said marriage has always been defined as the union of one man and one woman.

“I do not believe that anyone has the right to change the institution of marriage,” said Thompson, president of the Black Ministerial Alliance. “As a preacher of the Gospel for more than 40 years and as a husband of one wife for more than 38 years, as a father of eight children, I see this same-sex marriage initiative as a social experiment.”

“The purpose of marriage is to unite the fundamental opposites of male and female. The creator endowed men and women with different strengths and with different abilities, and our children need both. The massive evidence from social science research shows unique benefits to society and especially to children of a wedded mother and father,” he said.

Rep. Philip Travis, D-Rehoboth, said he originally supported the Travaglini-Lees amendment because it appeared to be the “last remnant of saving marriage.” Travis added that he now supports the new ballot initiative, and promised to file legislation that would offer all the benefits of marriage — such as inheritance, health care proxy and pension benefits — to any two adults who are not eligible for marriage under state law.

“I will be filing legislation this session for reciprocal beneficiary contracts for adults over 18, number of two, who wish to come in and avail themselves to all the protections of marriage offered by the Massachusetts constitution,” he said.

“It would extend basic rights, basic needs, to any two adults who are ineligible to marry, regardless of sexual orientation,” Mineau said about the legislation. “We want to make sure the playing field is leveled to meet the needs of all citizens.”

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